The Multinational Monitor

JUNE 1993 - VOLUME 14 - NUMBER 6


Workers' Movements

Organizing Resources

Women and Unions: Forging a Partnership
Edited by Dorothy Sue Cobble
Ithaca, ILR Press, 1993
452 pages

Review by Katerine Isaac

Fundamental changes have occurred in the U.S. labor force in the past decade. The current world of work is characterized by increasing numbers of women and people of color (who work out of necessity - not for extra income) in the workforce, and by increasing numbers of service jobs (which are low-paying, lack benefits and have high turnover), contingent (part-time and temporary) work, work at home and family-related needs such as child care and family leave. Given the current state of the work world and its impact on women workers, Dorothy Sue Cobble, in Women and Unions: Forging a Partnership, contends that the time is not only ripe, but critical, for labor and feminists to forge an alliance.

Feminists have begun to look beyond their traditional focus on the needs of career women to the economic needs of the majority of working women. And labor, although historically dismissive and even hostile to women workers, has initiated processes to improve its relationship with women and workers of color. But Cobble, associate professor at Rutgers University and director of the Center for Women and Work, suggests that feminists and unions need to "take a fresh look at one another." Women and Unions, which includes contributions from more than 40 scholars and activists, "aims to formulate the basis upon which a new, more productive partnership between working women and unions can be built - one that will energize labor's current membership as well as address the needs of those outside its ranks."

Elizabeth Engberg, a research analyst for employee benefits at the Service Employees' International Union, examines the nature of the growing contingent work force, which includes temporary, contract, seasonal and non-permanent part-time workers, and the ways numerous unions have responded.

The statistics about the contingent work force that Engberg compiles are staggering. Approximately 25 percent of U.S. workers are either part-time or are hired on a 'temporary,' subcontracted or leased basis. Women, who make up less than half of the U.S. work force, account for more than two-thirds of part-time and temporary workers. Contingent workers arc paid less and receive fewer benefits; for example, less than 25 percent of all part-time workers receive health benefits in contrast to 75 percent of full-time employees.

Engberg writes that some unions are addressing the needs of the new work force by simultaneously calling "for flexible jobs - when a worker may choose to work less than full-time while maintaining her or his seniority and fringe benefits - and mobilizing against contingent jobs, in which a worker has no power in her or his workplace and no representative to fight an employer driven by short-term profits."

Approaches include efforts to organize workers in the new sectors where jobs are being created (93 percent of part-time and contingent workers are without union protection) and bargaining for contracts with prorated health insurance, participation in a pension plan, job security and opportunity for advancement.

But Cobble writes that "simply adding work and family issues to the collective bargaining agenda will not be enough. Fundamentally new forms of organizing and representation may be necessary to empower the new service occupations and the more mobile, contingent work force. The issue is not just how to organize women and people of color but how to organize the jobs they hold and the industries in which they work."

Two specific solutions successfully implemented by the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) in New York City are jointly administered health and welfare funds and work sharing. For ILGWU members, when an entire plant closes, any worker who remains at work in the industry or is collecting unemployment or disability is eligible for coverage by the union-administered health and welfare fund for six months. Health and welfare funds can be administered jointly between a union with one or more employers or can be union-administered and supported by employer contributions. This type of fund can provide, for example, year-round health coverage to seasonal workers by "linking eligibility to work in the industry, rather than to employment in a particular job." Work sharing is another solution adopted by the ILGWU to protect workers in seasonal and part-time industries by providing stability and job security for part-time workers. The New York City ILGWU contracts stipulate that all available work during seasonal slowdowns be shared and that workers continue to receive health insurance benefits.

Some unions have begun to prioritize working for legislation that would protect all workers, such as family and medical leave, universal health insurance and pension reform. The social insurance systems that exist (due in large part to the influence of labor and social democratic parties) in most Western European countries - including health care, income guarantees, maternity and parental leave and child care - offer greater protection to workers in part-time and temporary jobs than in the United States according to Virginia duRivage and David C. Jacobs.

Other issues facing women in the workplace that are discussed in the volume include Margaret Hallock's explanation that an apparent reduction in the gender wage gap in the 1980s was due more to the failure of men's wages to increase than to gains among women. Judith Gerson challenges the assumption that temporary and homeworkers cannot be organized. And Katie Quan, interviewed by Ruth Milkman, explains the successful 1982 strike of Chinese garment workers.

Women and Unions offers a wealth of information about how women fare in the current world of work. The volume also offers valuable insight into how the labor movement could create innovative ways to organize and protect the new work force while reinvigorating itself. As Cobble writes in the introduction, "It is the needs of [ the growing female, service and contingent work force] that will in large part inform the agenda of any successful labor movement of the future. And in part it is the ability of organized labor to recognize these discontinuities and transform itself to attract this new work force that will determine whether workers opt for paternalistic, individualistic or collective solutions to their workplace dilemmas."


Keepers of the Dream
Produced by Tony Mazzochi
and Phyllis Ohlemacher
Lakewood, Colorado
Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union
1991, 35 minutes

Review by Katerine Isaac

From Wobbly Songwriter Joe Hill to Works Progress Administration art to films such as Harlan County, USA, the music, art and drama of the labor movement has inspired and recorded generations of worker struggles. But working class culture, with a few notable exceptions, has been lost in the dominant corporate culture of television and movies. The Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union (OCAW) reclaims labor's rich cultural heritage in Keepers of the Dream, a play commissioned by the union to open its 1991 convention. A video of the play is now available to the public.

"Working people often stay away from the arts because too often the arts ignore their lives, their concerns, their culture," says Tony Mazzochi, coproducer of the play. Keepers of the Dream, however, speaks to workers by inspiring pride in the union's history of struggle and success on behalf of working people.

The response of convention delegates to the play was "tremendous" according to co-producer Phyllis Ohlemacher. Convention delegate Shirley Guyader from Local 8-438 in New Brunswick, New Jersey remarks, "The play was very moving. It's an excellent tool for people to see the struggles we've gone through. [The videotape will] be an excellent organizing tool. But it'll also be great for our own people to see what we're all about." Guyader notes, "'Keepers of the Dream' is a good slogan. Our parents had the dream of forming a union. Now it's our task to recapture the dream and pass it along. To help the next generation to regroup, reunite and rebuild."

Keepers of the Dream illuminates significant moments in OCAW history via a narrative of theatrical readings, accompanied by original music and by photographs, dating back 80 years, projected on screens as a visual backdrop. It begins with an account of OCAW's 1967 Convention, held in New York City, where the union launched a campaign for worker health and safety via passage of federal legislation; joint labor/ management safety committees to monitor workplace conditions; and development of relationships with the press and with community leaders to fully inform the public of health and safety hazards.

The playbill states: "In 1967 the concept of community/ labor relations was nonexistent. OCAW, sensing the value of such coalitions, passed a convention Resolution which led to the formation of coalitions that resulted in the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970. OCAW's role in the early days of OSHA established the Union as a strong advocate for worker health and safety."

The play is a testament to OCAW's accomplishment of a number of important firsts in the labor movement. When Standard Oil and Shell Oil refused to offer a health and safety clause in their contracts, OCAW called a strike against Shell, becoming the first union to strike to secure health and safety guarantees. The 1973 Shell Oil strike and worldwide boycott was the first major corporate campaign in U.S. labor history and the first time in U.S. labor history that an alliance was forged between academic, scientific, environmental and labor communities.

The play's account of the life and death of OCAW activist Karen Silkwood is a particularly moving reminder of the price that so many workers have paid to win rights for all workers. This segment includes the playing of a recording of a telephone conversation taped with Silkwood's knowledge on October 7, 1974, in which she describes her concerns about worker safety at the Kerr-McGee plutonium plant where she worked in Cimarron, Oklahoma. It concludes with the singing of a mesmerizing ballad, "Elegy to Karen Silkwood," written by Dick Weissman.

The next segment tells the story of OCAW's corporate campaign against chemical giant BASF, which in 1984 locked out the 370 members of OCAW Local 4-620 at its Geismar, Louisiana facility and began to hire inexperienced contract workers. OCAW galvanized support from environmental and community groups to hold BASF accountable for the health and safety of both workers and the community. On December 18, 1989, OCAW Local 4-620 signed a new three year agreement with BASF, ending the longest industrial lock-out in U.S. labor history. As the playbill states: "the struggle at BASF showed all corporate giants that we do fight back and we fight to win."

The dramatic presentation looks ahead to the problems facing working people in the 1990s and challenges members to undertake important new work. OCAW members are encouraged to become involved personally in "a crusade for a new social, political, economic agenda for working Americans" including a national health care system; a labor political party; a Superfund for Workers to guarantee an annual income to jobs lost from environmental regulations or incidents; and the building of bridges to create a vibrant international trade unionism.

Keepers of the Dream was written by Denver playwright Larry Bograd, author of numerous plays including Ludlow about the famous Colorado labor struggle. Original music was written for the production by Dick Weissman, a Denver musician and composer with a trade union background. After the success of Keepers of the Dream, OCAW commissioned Bograd to write a play, The Half-Life of Karen Silkwood, to tell Silkwood's story from the perspective of the union to which she belonged. The play, a joint project of OCAW, Alice Hamilton College, Attic Equity Theatre and Wayne State University, also includes original music by Dick Weissman.

OCAW President Bob Wages says Silkwood's story "has never been told within the context of being an educational tool to demonstrate the effectiveness of the organizing model of unionism. Telling the Silkwood story within that context should not only be entertaining but also educational."

"Certain stories should be told and re-told for other generations," says playwright Larry Bograd. "A play about Karen Silkwood will bring people to the theater that wouldn't normally go to a play. There's an enormous potential audience that doesn't go to arts events. They've been told they don't have taste. It's a lie," says Bograd.

Phyllis Ohlemacher says that at the initial reading of the Silkwood play, "we had burly oil workers who really got a tear in their eye. ... I think the theatre is moving. It's a forum we wanted to use. We tried to reach our membership in a different way to make them proud of who they are."

Keepers of the Dream is available on videocassette from OCAW in Lakewood, Colorado. The Half-Life of Karen Silkwood will premiere at Detroit's Attic Theater on July 30, 1993.


Breaking the Barrier: The Rise of Solidarity in Poland
By Lawrence Goodwyn
New York: Oxford University Press, 1991
466 pages

Review by Anthony Murawski

In August 1980, sevreal hundred industrial enterprises, with the participation of hundreds of thousands of workers, shut down production on Poland's Baltic coast. The coordinated occupation strike was accomplished in a matter of days, despite the watchful eyes of the state security apparatus and the communist party's control of television, radio, and telephone communications throughout the country. The mobilization that gave birth to the Solidarity trade union was, in Lawrence Goodwyn's words, "one of the high points of working-class assertion and cooperation in world history." -

Most of the literature on Solidarity portrays the Polish working class as "essentially a faceless abstraction," a mass that could not have acted coherently without the guidance of Poland's dissident intelligentsia. Goodwyn challenges this prevailing assumption, and he makes a very strong case: Solidarity was built at the grassroots by Polish workers, who, through 35 years of shop floor organizing, developed sophisticated methods of self assertion. Almost 500 democratically elected delegates made their way to the coastal city of Gdansk to create an Inter-factory Strike Committee, developing the strategy and coordinating the strikes that forced the Polish government to enter into a social pact unprecedented in the industrialized world.

Yet this enormous experiment in popular democracy has been trivialized, and its lessons have gone unappreciated. Instead of trying to understand the democratic, grassroots organizing struggle that developed into Solidarity, most observers have focused on surface events that were made possible only as a result of the lateral inter-factory communication structure that was in place by August 1980. Goodwyn notes that this myopic view, combined with elitist assumptions about the preeminent role of intellectuals in social revolutions, has created a highly distorted picture of what really occurred in Poland: Polish workers in Gdansk launched a spontaneous strike in response to an increase in food prices. In some inexplicable manner the strike spread along the coast, and subsequently throughout the rest of the country. Then the dissident intelligentsia stepped in, gave guidance, and formulated the strategic demands that brought the Polish government to its knees. As Goodwyn convincingly demonstrates, such an interpretation is not only historically inaccurate but it misses the most crucial lesson to be learned from the Solidarity experience: namely, how a truly democratic movement that represented the aspirations of the Polish working-class, and much of Polish society, could be built in a relatively closed society.

To understand Solidarity it is necessary to look at the organizing struggles that produced it. Goodwyn's literary approach is as revealing as his emphasis on shop floor organizing. He looks chronologically at developments in working class Poland after 1945, first by evoking surface events as they have generally been described in the prevailing literature. He then fills in the gaps by describing the internal dynamics at individual enterprises that reveal the degree of worker self-assertion that was necessary to create the "spontaneous" events. Goodwyn interviewed hundreds of worker activists from enterprises all over Poland. Instead of the usual litany of seemingly unrelated waves of strikes that swept through Poland in 1956, 1970 and 1980, we get a much more complex and interesting account. Workers gradually developed a high level of sophistication at challenging the state. They learned through numerous and often bloody lessons that locally isolated strikes could be easily contained. They also learned that occupation strikes were much better suited to protecting strike leaders and the workforce than were open demonstrations. But for these methods to be effective it was necessary to develop lateral lines of communication between enterprises within cities, regions and nationwide. Unlike other observers, Goodwyn goes to the trouble of reconstructing organizing efforts at major enterprises to explain why the cities on the Baltic coast were best organized. He points out and attempts to address a truly ironic shortcoming in the literature on Solidarity, that "undoubtedly the single most neglected area of research on the Polish movement concerns political distinctions within the working population."

The most provocative argument of Goodwyn's book is, unfortunately, not as convincing as his reconstruction of Solidarity's development. He writes that from August 1980 until the declaration of martial law in December 1981, Poland "was the most democratic society in the world." This conclusion seems to be based on the formation of a much-neglected organizational structure that emerged from and became parallel to the trade union in March 1981 - the Network of Solidarity Workplace Organizations, more commonly referred to as "the Network." Solidarity had developed an enterprise self-management program that went beyond the Hungarian model, but self-management was still limited to individual enterprises. Therefore, it was unworkable within the framework of a command economy. The Network began developing ideas on a nationwide scale that would somehow "logically integrate" enterprises into the national economy. Goodwyn writes, "Merit, efficiency, and, above all, accountability now replaced membership in the nomenklatura as the operating criteria for filling, administrative positions in industrial Poland."

Under pressure from the Network, Solidarity developed an "Action Program" that "embraced a structural empowerment of the citizenry on a scale that has not been achieved in any society." But Goodwyn offers little of substance to back such sweeping claims, even if they are true. Certainly, the theses of Solidarity's Action Program were democratic: no special privileges for the nomenklatura, social control of the media, self-management of enterprises, etc. But it is unclear from Goodwyn's account to what degree the "Action Program" and the proposals of the Network were practicable and not merely rhetorical.

Nevertheless, Breaking the Barrier is a welcome relief from the usual fixation on Poland's intelligentsia, or other actors, such as the Catholic church, in the formation of Solidarity. Very few books capture the spirit of working-class Poland as does Goodwyn's. He vividly documents the struggles at individual enterprises over a thirty five year period and the tactics of the party to suppress worker demands. But Goodwyn goes beyond narrative description- he demonstrates how these experiences led to the conviction by Baltic activists that nothing short of an independent, self-governing trade union was a necessity, precisely because such a structure would undermine "the leading role of the party" in Polish society. Breaking the Barrier also explodes the condescending myth that Poland's intellectuals "raised the consciousness" of the working-class; to the contrary, the Baltic activists pushed for an independent union despite the fears of many intellectual advisors that this core demand could never be attained. The many tensions within the movement are perceptively described so as to underscore the remarkable ability of thousands of factory delegates to negotiate solutions among themselves in the face intense government pressure. Without a doubt, Goodwyn demonstrates that Solidarity was far more than an anti-communist dissident movement, and that it is "a model for people of all nations concerned about democratic governance to ponder."

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