Notes on a Theory…

Thoughts on politics, law, & social science

More on the Importance of Unions: Getman on UNITE HERE

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At Talking Union, Julius Getman explains Why the Battle Between Hotel Workers and Hyatt is Important.

First, it matters to the union movement, which as I’ve noted, is in crisis.

The effort to organize Hyatt is a key element in the monumental task of restoring the private sector labor movement. The hospitality industry is vast and growing. UNITE HERE is a democratic member-centered union. It is seeking to organize the industry one hotel and one employer at a time. It is likely to be successful if Hyatt will agree to a system under which the workers without the pressure of a management campaign decide whether or not they wish union representation.

Given how important a strong labor movement is for combating inequality (as Lawrence Mishel provides further evidence for in Unions, inequality, and faltering middle-class wages), the restoration of private sector unions matters for everyone.

But it matters for electoral politics as well.

The political implications of this are enormous. Immigrant workers generally and Hispanic workers in particular are the sleeping giant of politics in States like Texas and Arizona. As Harry Reid’s union energized, come from behind, victory in Nevada in 2010 demonstrated [which I wrote about here], unions stimulate political involvement and provide a vehicle for it. Many years ago unionized immigrant workers transformed politics in states like New York, New Jersey, and Ohio. They can do the same in Texas. If Texas is changed politically the country will inevitably and permanently be different politically.

It’s long been clear that if unions could successfully penetrate the South, it would open up enormous possibilities for progressive change.  And given that labor law change seems largely out of reach (it’s been sought under each Democratic president since LBJ and each time was blocked by a filibuster in the Senate), it’s worth thinking about what can be done under the existing legal regime. This regime, while extremely hostile to union rights, has seen successes.

Getman says “The Hyatt campaign can be a major step in strengthening the alliance between labor and other progressive groups.”  I hope so, but the hard work of organizing hasn’t captured the imagination of most progressives.  Such outside support could pressure Hyatt to allow workers to decide for themselves whether they want to join a union.

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Written by David Kaib

September 9, 2012 at 7:21 pm

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