US unions fight back in service sector
One of the country’s most respected commentators on Russia, the EU and the US, Mary Dejevsky has worked as a foreign correspondent all over the world, including Washington, Paris and Moscow. A former diplomatic editor and chief leader writer at The Independent, she now writes a weekly column and makes regular contributions to UK and international radio and television. She is a member of the international foreign affairs think-tank, Chatham House, the Valdai Group of international Russia specialists and the Franco-British Council. She also sits on the advisory board of the School of Slavonic and East European Studies at University College London.
Tuesday 12 August 1997
While the conjunction of the recruitment drive with the continuing strike was an accident, many believe that the times are potentially more conducive to trade union activism than they have been for years. The US has a record number of people in employment, but wages have been almost static in low-paying jobs. As the UPS strike has shown, many full-time workers in comparatively well-paid jobs fear they could be replaced by cheaper part-timers. The genesis of the UPS strike is the proportion of part-timers and their low pay compared to that of full-time workers.
The AFL-CIO drive focuses on members relating how their union has helped them and their families. It includes trade union intervention to obtain compensation for industrial injuries, equal pay for equal work and improving working conditions.
The AFL-CIO says that membership offers workers the sort of protection and bargaining clout they either do not have or fear they could lose. Some campaigners for union recognition are former industrial workers dissatisfied with the pay and conditions in the service sectors where the new jobs are.
Trade unions still face formidable difficulties, not just from employers, but from workers fearful of "spoiling" relations with management.
The problem was illustrated last week when workers at a Wal-Mart supermarket in Wisconsin voted against joining a union. But the fact that this was the first Wal-Mart store to face such a vote indicates that trade unionism in the US is not dead yet.
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