Sunday, August 17, 2003

Union Bashing 101

I’ve spent some profitable times over the past couple of decades taking classes and teaching at various labor education centers and have always admired the work that they do – especially in health and safety. They are indispensable for training future union activists and supplementing union efforts to train their members in a variety of labor issues. Check out the projects and publications at LOHP at Berkeley or LOSH at UCLA.

Well you can imagine my surprise to find out that labor studies centers are evil, according to a Wall St. Journal article, “Picketing 101,” by Steve Malanga of the right wing Manhattan Institute.

“Under AFL-CIO chief John Sweeney, these departments have defined their mission chiefly as supporting labor and its organizing effects rather than educating students.” (Some – like me -- would argue that “supporting labor and its organizing efforts IS educating students)

The Manhattan Institute is a think tank whose mission is to develop and disseminate new ideas that foster greater economic choice and individual responsibility. A longer article on the same topic can be found on their web site.

What examples to we have of the labor movement’s crimes in co-opting of academic departments and programs?”

-- U-Mass Amherst has an M.A. program in union leadership and administration – “in essence a school for union leaders.” (Horrors!) Amherst also has a course whose description, in part, reads “we live in ‘an era of crushing corporate power and aggressive opposition to unions.” (as personified perhaps by this article?)

-- Wayne State university provides technical support for “living-wage campaigns around the country which helped to spark successful efforts to raise the minimum wage for some workers in dozens of cities.” (What will they stoop to next?)

And if the subversive course material isn’t bad enough, labor programs go so far as to sponsor internships, which like the vampires of old, direct impressionable students “to do labor’s bidding.”

What do these possessed interns work on? Some help in organizing campaigns, and if hat isn’t bad enough, some of them are guilty of assisting campaigns that involve “forcing business to raise the sallies of some employees,” which somehow works “against the interests of taxpayers” (who are different from workers? I’m getting confused.)

In addition to warping their young minds and recruiting them into the union cult world, these programs also put out reports on “subjects key to the labor movement’s legislative agenda: free trade, globalization, living wage legislation, poverty…These reports, with their veneer of academic objectivity, appear to provide scholarly proof of labors most cherished contentions.”(Hear that John Ashcroft? Any more room in Guantanemo?)

But if it’s really tainted research he’s interested in, he should check out reports by the American Association of University Professors and the Center for Science in the Public Interest who have documented multiple examples of business-dominated university research programs.
The report also identifies more than 30 university-based research centers that draw substantial financial support from companies or corporate trade associations. Among those are several university centers on forestry funded by timber or paper industries and several centers on nutrition funded by food and agribusiness companies. All such centers let corporations put an academic sheen on industry-funded research, according to CSPI.

“People would be far more skeptical of a ‘Corporate Polluters Lobbying Association’ than an industry-funded ‘Harvard University Center on Important Issues,’” said [CSPI Director Michael] Jacobson. “Companies hope that a nonprofit’s or university’s good name will burnish their reputations. Call it ‘innocence by association.’”
More on the CSPI study here.

So what’s the goal of these subversive activities? “Labor programs state plainly that they exist primarily to promote unions and create a generation of activists. For example,
The labor program at UMass Lowell, for instance, uses its website to disseminate “action alerts” about local union campaigns, warning that a union local is under attack from a movie theater chain or imploring readers to assist an organizing effort at a local supermarket chain by downloading a form letter to send to the chain’s president. The labor studies program at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, sponsors intensely partisan radio programs, dubbed “Heartland Labor Forum.”
Well, excuse me, but don’t business schools exist primarily to promote American business. Check out the Wharton business school web page: “Wharton is dedicated to creating the highest value and impact on the practice of business and management worldwide through intellectual leadership and innovation in teaching, research, publishing, and service.”

And last time I checked, it was still just as legal to organize a union or go out on strike as it is to form a business.

But isn’t labor studies just as legitimate as African American studies or women’s studies? Of course not. “Unlike gender or race studies (both disciplines strongly supported by the Wall St. Journal and the Manhattan Institute), labor studies undeviatingly promote the interests of a tiny constituency: the union” (Actually, labor studies promotes the interests of a slightly larger constituency: workers. But let’s not get too picky.)

The longer article on the Manhattan Institute website goes into a bit of labor history. It seems that labor studies programs once served a useful purpose (just as at one time unions themselves served a useful (purpose):
When labor studies programs arose just after World War II, mostly in the “extension” or continuing-education divisions of universities, their aim was modest: to help create a better-educated generation of union workers to combat mob control, corruption, and communist influence. “If labor leaders could be better educated, it was thought this would lead to fewer confrontations and fewer strikes,” says Judy Ancel, director of the Institute for Labor Studies at the University of Missouri, Kansas City.
In other words, as long as labor studies programs were teaching workers to accept their conditions, not to confront their employers and never strike, they were OK.

How things have changed. Now we have
Queens College of the City University of New York, professors developed a labor internship program, the Solidarity Project, with help from the university’s Education Center for Community Organizing, whose purpose is to stimulate social activism and community organizing in students.
And the last thing a democratic nation needs is more social activism and community organizing.

Ah, the good old days:
Back in the sixties and seventies, when labor bosses were culturally conservative, supported pro-growth policies, and sent their hardhats to battle long-haired students over the war in Vietnam, who would ever have thought the day would come when union leaders would co-opt the professors?
Or vice versa.

Malanga’s article is clearly an attempt by the Manhatten Institute to foment a taxpayer revolt against these publicly funded programs. Malanga quotes a small businessman viewing a Living Wage who was “shocked to learn that some of those out on street corners agitating in favor of the [Living Wage] law were fulfilling course requirements. ‘As a [California] taxpayer, I'm funding the U.C. system. This isn't the kind of activity I want to fund.’”

Of course, if taxpayers really want to revolt, they could look down the road a few miles from where I’m writing to the public George Mason University and its rabidly anti-union, anti regulatory Mercatus Center. Mercatus is best known for counting up the costs of regulations every year (leaving out the benefits) and for sponsoring anti-regulatory “studies” such as one I quoted a few months ago that argues that OSHA Kills.

So why is labor studies important? As California AFL-CIO President Art Pulaski, Executive Secretary- Treasurer of the California Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, says:
"We are in danger of becoming two Californias: the privileged, highly paid executives and professionals, and the rest of us -- the teachers, the construction workers, the farm laborers, the garment workers, the retail clerks, the child care and nursing home staff. Many of these people are immigrants and minorities who are having great difficulty making ends meet. The University of California should study these jobs and the problems of these workers and offer well-informed advice to policy makers in labor, business, and government. The result will be new policies, partnerships, and employment institutions that contribute to an economy in which prosperity is shared and opportunities are opened to all."
Update: Check out Tapped and the Joe Kenehan Center for other perspectives on this article.