A labor union is opposing a Hyde Park Progress-favored development project. Commence the search for villains!
Richard Gill, auxiliary HPP contributor, covers meetings well and generally maintains an even tone while arguing in favor of seemingly all development projects in HP. But here he wanders into subject matter that's beyond his expertise:
The union is playing its own members for suckers. How can they try to unionize a hotel if they prevent the hotel from being built? ...The dry vote is a union strong-arm tactic, plain and simple. Not smart. Talk about tilting at windmills.
Like most Hyde Parkers, Richard probably thinks he's a liberal who cares about hotel workers. But he finds himself opposing the hotel workers' union on a local issue, so what are his choices? He could simply ignore the labor angle. He could argue that he cares about unions & workers, but he thinks this development is more important than their concerns. Maybe there are other thoughtful rationales we could come up with, but Richard decided to argue that the union's leaders are misrepresenting their members.
Union leaders are not perfect beings. There's certainly a time & place for critiquing union strategy, examining whether leaders are faithfully & competently representing their members. But there's zero evidence that Richard has spent any time trying to understand the union's philosophy or the effectiveness of their tactics. His choice of this moment suddenly to be concerned about UNITE-HERE's members makes it hard to stifle guffaws. Could it be that the welfare of the union's members is secondary to his desire for a hotel? Maybe, just maybe?
Are Richard's self-serving complaints about UNITE-HERE's leaders singular at HPP? No, I'm afraid not. Peter Rossi, as usual, takes the cake:
Unique? In the literal sense? Well, let's see if we can possibly find another example of a union protecting its members from non-union competition during the sweep of labor history on our fine globe. Yes, I have! Oh, I had to go way back, way way back, all the way to 2004 in far off, exotic Chicago, Illinois, to find such an example. But I managed. Behold, Peter, the campaign against Wal-Mart-- UFCW's zoning fight and Big Box Ordinance locally and the national campaign, too!
In any case, the organizing tactics that worked in 1937 are difficult to replicate today. Peter wants to paint unions into a corner, prohibiting the tactics necessary to keep up with the international corporations of 2008. Of course, if they took his advice, many people, including me, would complain that they're acting like dinosaurs, refusing to adjust to the 21st century. Peter, if you work to confine unions to an outdated organizing mode-- in practice-- you're against unions.
UNITE-HERE's leaders are smart and they're motivated to represent their members as forcefully as possible. The tactics they're using to protect their members are not unusual in the modern labor movement. Oh, you might be able to find people with long biographies of fighting for workers' rights, a few upstanding union folks who would prefer to deploy labor's resources elsewhere, but it's clear that Richard and Peter have another agenda. The honest thing would be to admit that, on this issue, they're simply anti-union.
I only wish that Peter and Richard were outliers. Sadly, they're not. Too many people who consider themselves liberals have taken for granted the role labor unions play in progressive politics. The minor favors they ask from us-- like opposing a particularly anti-union hotel developer in a neighborhood that could use a hotel-- are a small price to pay when you consider that the unions are out there every election year, fighting to contain the damage wrought on our nation by politicians in the pocket of corporate interests.
Here we are in 2008 and we still don't have universal health insurance, not even for children! That's criminal. Simply no excuse for that in a nation as rich as ours. If the unionized share of the for-profit sector were much larger, as it is in almost all of Western Europe, there's no question we'd have the same universal coverage Western Europe has.