To turn this around, Burns suggests, we will have to change the way we think about workplaces. According to our courts, a man or woman can work for decades in a business and nonetheless have no legal interest in it, the legal interest belonging entirely to the employer. The employer can move the business to another country without violating a labor contract. The employer can sell out to another employer and eliminate a labor contract in the process. The employer can break a strike with scabs. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935 might have looked good on paper, but its interpretation by courts and restriction by other legislation -- notably the Taft Hartley Act of 1947 -- have made clear its weaknesses. Labor has no choice left, Burns argues, but to repeal the NLRA by noncompliance.
There are recent examples to build on: the 1986 United Food and Commercial Workers Local P9 strike against Hormel in Austin, Minnesota; the 1989 Pittson Strike in West Virginia, in which workers used sit-ins and road blocking, as well as vandalism, to successfully resist concession demands; the 1995 lockout of workers at A.E. Staley and Company in Decatur, Illinois; the 2000 campaign to free the Charleston 5 in which a global strike in ports was organized to successfully oppose the prosecution of five picketers in South Carolina; the 2008 takeover of Republic Windows and Doors, in which workers in Chicago compelled an employer to pay them severance; and the 2011 pushback against union busting in Madison, Wisconsin.
The specific approaches used in a newly striking and solidarity-building labor movement will be invented as needed and vary with the circumstances. Burns proposes creating new start-up unions without the financial assets that are placed at risk in this country by exercising the international and human right to strike. Strike funds could be transferred to such "new unions created to protect old unions." Employers have manipulated the law, creating new entities for every purpose under the sun. Labor needs to become equally aggressive about finding the way to create its vision of a just society.
But one comment in Burns' book will lead away from the crucial path he has pointed out. Burns writes: "In many ways, violent resistance was the only means available to unions of the 1930s to stop production, particularly in the face of aggressive management tactics." We have 80 years of additional global experience that demonstrates the dangerous falsehood of this claim. Nonviolent tactics (which will, of course, often be met with violence from the other side) are more likely to succeed and to do so at less cost, building greater solidarity in the process.
We are all Chicago teachers!
(Note: You can view every article as one long page if you sign up as an Advocate Member, or higher).