How to Prevent the Labor Wars

Thomas A. Kochan in the Boston Review:

ScreenHunter_02 Mar. 24 11.33 Just when America needs everyone working together to resolve the severest economic crisis since the Great Depression, we are on the brink of what could be the largest prolonged labor war of our lifetimes, triggered by the fiscal crises facing state and local governments. But that outcome can be avoided. We need to draw on the most effective tools of labor negotiations—evidence-based problem solving, worker engagement, and union-management partnership.

The current labor battle began in Wisconsin, where, after a dramatic standoff with state Democrats and pro-union demonstrators, Governor Scott Walker and the state legislature stripped public employees of their rights to collective bargaining. (A circuit court judge has since issued a temporary restraining order, stopping the measure from taking effect.) Much is at stake nationally in Wisconsin. If other states follow, unions will be forced to justify their continued existence year after year, making it impossible for them to represent their members in a stable and responsible fashion. Walker and his supporters have attacked what the United States and the other nations of the Governing Body of the International Labor Organization have called a fundamental human right: the right to associate freely and have an independent voice at work.

What happened in Wisconsin was, to some extent, foreseeable: American workers have suffered a steady decline in labor policy. We have allowed worker rights to erode in the private sector without recognizing the consequences, let alone protesting. Now we see the same thing happening baldly and suddenly in the public sector. The 100,000 people who hit the streets of Madison may provide the shock needed to see this problem clearly and to act.

More here.