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A Public Service Message from the American Income Life Insurance Co.Waco, TexasBernard Rapoport, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer LABOR AT THE CROSSROADS VII BY GUS TYLER This is one of the finest critiques of unionism that I have ever read. It is a chapter from UNIONS IN TRANSITION, edited by Seymour Martin Lipset, which was published and copyrighted in 1986 by The Institute for Contemporary Studies in San Francisco. This is the final installment of the chapter which has been reprinted in recent issues of the Observer. Readers wishing free copies of “Labor at the Crossroads” intact should write me at American Income Life Insurance Company, P.O. Box 2608, Waco, Texas 76797. Bernard Rapoport It is in this open spirit that the report makes a series of suggestions on organizing, bargaining, internal democratization, and getting the union message out to the public. They are all somewhat novel, presented as an agenda for discussion rather than as directions for action. The action for the moment is to engage in one big pow-wow, a massive discussion about what is to be done. The suggestion that seems to get the most attention is the desirability of merger among unions. Indeed, in the report there is a special appendix \(the only item with merger movement is under way because several national unions do not have enough members to justify independent existence or, more pragmatically, to carry the overhead. A merger offers the advantages of large scale economies. But there is another reason why mergers are desirable as well as necessary. Companies historically identified with a product are no longer producing that product or have taken on a protean existence as they turn out dozens or hundreds of different lines. The giants who grew horizontally have gone vertical and conglomerate. While companies move from turf to turf or over many different turfs, unions remain stuck in their jurisdiction. To overcome this, some unions have diversified. Some have tried multi-union bargaining. Others have merged. Viewed historically, it is inevitable that there will be macro adjustments in union structure. When business was local, unions were local. When corporations and industries went national, unions went national. When business goes conglomerate, so must unions. The various suggestions of the report are all ways to get labor thinking about how to minimize its losses and maximize its potential, to give labor muscle, to enable unions to be a reasonably effective voice in the shaping of national economic policies. Having such input, however, does not mean that labor and labor alone will be able to grapple with the metamacro challenge of a robotized globe. The macro solutions will have to be political; collective bargaining alone cannot do the big job. Consider a hypothetical circumstance: a company employes 1,000 workers under union contract. At expiration, the company introduces robots and discharges 900 workers; the other 100 are union members. The union solution is to cut work time so that all 1,000 will have jobs. To do so the forty-hour work week will have to be cut to the four-hour work week, or something like that, without a reduction in weekly pay. The employer refuses to go along. He is ready to double the pay of the 100 employees he is retaining. The union asks these 100 to strike. They are reluctant. But, being good loyal unionists who love their brothers, they do go on strike. The employer moves his robots to Portugal. There, in an exaggerated nutshell, is the problem of a union in a robotized planet. As I see it this thought is quite personal and highly tentative the titanic struggle in the last decade of this century or the first decade of the next will be between mega-multinational corporations and sovereign states not unlike the historical conflict between church and state in the past. Who’s the boss? What the little corporation mentioned in the frightening fantasy above could do to a union, global corporations could do to nations. They could dictate both economic and political policies to governments under the threat to remove capital, technology, employment, and sources of revenue from any country that did not do the bidding of the corporate overlords. The “sovereignties” could lose their sovereignty. The whole world could just be a colony ruled by corporations headquartered in the Cayman Islands, Crete, or the Isle of Man. Should this fantasy ever become fact, what can nations do? My guess perhaps, my unthinking wish is that they will do what unions have been doing in the past: they will unite. They have the power to refuse companies the right to import or export capital, to locate or relocate facilities, to employ labor, to tap raw materials. Above all else, they have the power to close their markets both to goods and services emanating from hostile exploiters. A country like the United States could probably do this on its own. It could do it better with the help of a few natural allies. But if nations, large and small, take collective action to defend their sovereignty against the alien dictator, then the world will witness the reenactment of an earlier drama when governments of “industrial democracies” evolved policies to civilize and “socialize” their domestic capitalisms. This time the grand drama will be replayed on a global stage. Should such a worldwide movement of nations in some not too distant future search for a proper rubric, it might try: “Nations of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your pains and a world to gain.” This is the final excerpt of Labor at the Crossroads. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 21