40 Lab. Stud. J. 5 (2015)

handle is hein.journals/labstuj40 and id is 1 raw text is: 
                                                                     Official Journal of
                                                                     United Association for
Introductory Essay                                                   Labr Education
                                                                 Labor Studies journal
                                                                 2015, Vol. 40(I) 5-7
New Models of Worker                                                  @ 2015 UALE
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                                                         RDOI: 1177/060449X15579766
                                                                     Isj.sagepub.com


Robert Bruno


Albert Einstein was reputed to have said that continuing to do the same thing over and
over again and expecting different results was the definition of insanity. He wasn't
referring to the labor movement, but it would seem to be an apt assessment of how
poorly the idea of collective bargaining has fared since at least Ronald Reagan's elec-
tion. In truth, union membership and political influence were in decline before the
PATCO   strike. But it was not until AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka   came to
Chicago in 2013 and declared that the basic system of worker representation is failing
to meet the needs of America's working men and women  by  every critical measure
that old models of union behavior were no longer the default organizing mode.
   Some  unions had always been creative about how they behaved, and many  used
innovative techniques to win organizing campaigns and good labor agreements. It's
not that everything that organized labor was doing was failing-just too much of it.
The fault of labor's retrenchment lay in many areas. First among them was that the
political climate turned decidedly hostile. Labor's enemies were diverse but united
behind a union-free ideology. Legal protections for union organizing and bargaining
were never robust, but since the 1970s, federal attacks on the National Labor Relations
Board  and state restrictions on public- and private-sector unionism have degraded
respect for industrial democracy. Additionally, trade agreements shipped millions of
union jobs someplace else, and fiscal policy shifted increased shares of wealth into
fewer already well-provisioned hands, which squeezed the life out of public budgets,
further eroding the benefits of unionization.
   As the external threats multiplied, however, organized labor mostly accepted con-
cessions and, more fatefully, defaulted to the familiar practice of accepting changes
over which it had no influence. When the ground was collapsing underfoot, the labor
movement   assumed a fortress mentality. Live to fight another day became the battle
cry of a badly damaged army of workers. Perhaps the biggest loss was the conceptual
flattening of collective bargaining. From a powerful process for creating economic
prosperity and democratic problem solving, collective bargaining was reduced to an
inconvenience. While employers had mostly only learned to tolerate what they couldn't
avoid, the idea of democracy in the workplace had once held out the promise that all
labor could be valued and that the rules we work under could contribute to a broadly
shared prosperity. But truthfully, it seems that only unions and groups that stand for
workers see the future in such inclusive shades.
   Yet despite repeated predictions of labor's ultimate demise, unions have proven to
be remarkably durable institutions. Fight remains. The cause is no less right. But how

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