A friend just retweeted this link to a web site discussing the negotiations between the striking Minnesota Orchestra and management. It brought a few things to mind that some of you may not know, mostly myths about how to win a strike.
1. “In order to win a strike, the union must win over ‘public opinion.’
Not really, no. Sometimes it can be useful to win over public opinion (as a source of additional income for the strike fund, &c), but it is never decisive.
2. “To win over public opinion, show how willing you are to compromise.”
This goes beyond myth and reaches the level of outright lie. The great labor battles in the past that have, in fact, won over public opinion (whatever that even means), have done so either because the conditions against which the workers were striking were so obviously appalling that anyone with a shred of conscience couldn’t help but support it (various coal strikes and early textile strikes had this), or, more often, by displaying the sort of firm, uncompromising attitude that convinced people they meant business (the Minneapolis General Drivers strike; the sit-down strikes in Flint, Michigan; the South St. Paul packing house strike in the 40’s are good examples).
3. “Workers are too selfish to risk their comfort to support workers in other industries.”
This, if believed by the workers themselves, is the most dangerous myth. In fact, it has been shown again and again that, in a serious battle between labor and management, efforts to reach out for support from the rest of the labor movement will be rewarded. The clearest case of this in reverse was the PATCO strike, which began what can only be called the destruction of the American labor movement. Many air traffic controllers understood instinctively that the effort by Reagan to break their union would be followed by attacks on the rest of the labor movement; and (more importantly) so did workers throughout the country. The refusal of the trade union bureaucracy to enlist the aid of the rest of labor is exactly what led to the destruction of that union–and the subsequent attacks on labor throughout the country until today, for all intents and purposes, there is no labor movement here at all.
During the writers’ strike, the actors’ union and various unions of technical workers were very willing to support the strike (sometimes, it is true, against the wishes of their own leadership); the offers were refused. In the present case, no effort has been made to reach out to stagehands unions, or riggers, or any of the other associated industries. The leaders of the musicians’ union seem determined to fight with one hand, blindfolded, and a foot in a bucket. Management, meanwhile, is using every weapon at their disposal.
I continue to be optimistic. I think there is sufficient growing discontent that a labor movement will grow here in spite of the dead husks of what remains of the unions hanging around the neck of the working class like millstones. But it will have to be in spite of those unions that, as the musicians’ union is demonstrating, aren’t worth the name.