Saturday, September 30, 2006



RUTH MILKMAN BOSTON REVIEW - The late-20th-century transformation of
work through de-unionization and restructuring, as well as the influx of
immigrants into low-wage employment, were national and global rather
than local or regional developments. . . Contrary to the claims of some
commentators that the influx of impoverished immigrants precipitated the
deterioration of wages, benefits, and working conditions in service,
construction, and other blue-collar jobs, the timing suggests that the
causality runs in the opposite direction: immigrants were hired mainly
in the years after the jobs in question had been degraded by
de-unionization and restructuring. The details vary by industry, but
employers' vigorous efforts to de-unionize workplaces in the 1970s and
1980s led native-born workers to abandon jobs as unions were weakened,
wages declined and benefits and job security evaporated. Only then did
immigrants move into the now-vacant positions. And soon afterward,
contrary to the conventional wisdom, the foreign-born work force proved
to be a key factor facilitating union renewal in the region.

Unions have not always been pessimistic about immigrants - in fact, they
have relied on them for leadership and growth throughout U.S. history.
During its formative years, organized labor's growth was predicated
largely on recruiting immigrants and their offspring, who made up a huge
proportion of the working class in the urban and industrial regions of
the country that were the primary sites of union-building. In the New
Deal years, ironically, U.S. labor leaders were disproportionately
foreign-born themselves, even when anti-immigrant sentiments within the
unions were at their height. . .

But this history had been largely obliterated from public memory by the
1970s and 1980s, when mass immigration resumed. . .

However, by the late 1980s, as more and more organizers began to grasp
the potential for immigrant unionization, the once conventional wisdom
about "unorganizability" began to dissolve. Indeed, in Los Angeles, and
sometimes elsewhere as well, unionists were increasingly persuaded that
foreign-born workers were actually far easier to recruit than natives,
and by the 1990s that revisionist view would be widely echoed in public
commentary as well as inside the labor movement. . .

Moreover, national data suggest that Latinos have more positive
attitudes toward unionization than most other ethnic groups. In the 1994
national Worker Representation and Participation Survey, for example, 51
percent of Latino respondents nationwide (regardless of nativity) who
were not union members indicated that they would vote for a union if a
representation election were held in their workplaces, compared to 35
percent of non-Latinos. The figures were similar for Asian-American
respondents, 49 percent of whom said they would vote for a union,
compared to 35 percent of non-Asians. African-American respondents
expressed even stronger support for unionism, with 64 percent indicating
that they would vote for a union, compared to 32 percent of
non-African-American respondents. Although Latinos are not quite as
pro-union as African-Americans, both groups are consistently more
positive toward unionism than whites.

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