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October 08, 2002

More on Taft-Hartley

Sam Heldman asks that I clarify why the ILWU and labor opposes an injunction ending the lock-out, when it is management that has shut down the ports and ILWU workers are willing to go back to work.

The answer is that the threat of a strike is what forces companies to negotiate in good faith and come to agreement. As long as management knows that the federal government will jump into a contract fight, they can refuse to bargain for real. Just the threat by Bush to invoke Taft-Hartley months ago led the PMA dock management to dick around and refuse to seriously negotiate. The management knowing an injunction would come, locked out the ILWU with hopes of killing the threat of a strike for months. Ironically, the existence of Taft-Hartley has probably extended this conflict longer. Without Bush's threat, there probably would be a contract-- albeit on terms favorable to the ILWU workers.

And the history of Taft-Hartley injunctions is that they usually don't solve the conflicts-- they just prolong them for the 80 day "cooling off" period. There was a strike and injunction in 1971 against the ILWU and the strike picked up right at the end of the Taft-Hartley period. See the PMA's own timeline of that strike.

The goal of a Taft-Hartley injunction is to derail the organizing energy and momentum of the ILWU-- that is always the goal of judicial injunctions and the history posted below shows. Bush has been collaborating with PMA management in this goal for months and today is the fruition of their gamesmanship.

There are some other issues that make an injunction repugnant. First, each time it is used, it makes it easier to use in other conflicts. Second, an injunction might allow troops to be deployed on the docks to enforce it, which is a nice visual way by the Bush administration to delegitimize unions as visual targets of military action-- especially dangerous in today's propaganda environment. And third, letting courts in might mean that they intervene to stop non-strike protests by the union, such as "work safe" actions where the union carefully follows all safety rules and thereby slows down production.

Essentially, an injunction is a weapon to take away the only weapon workers have-- the right to control their own labor. Judicial injunctions are the historic enemy of labor and there is nothing worse Bush could do that go to court for one.

Some more commentary on ILWU & Taft-Hartley:

  • Threat of military takeover of the docks (August 14 The Guardian)
  • Another PATCO in the Making- Labor Standard interview with ILWU spokesperson
  • Use of Taft-Hartley Often Gives Poor Result (Oct 4 Wall Street Journal)
  • Charges of politics have dogged Taft-Hartley Act (Oct 8 Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
  • Teamsters Back Longshoremen- Hoffa calls threat of Taft-Hartley "open union-busting" (Oct 5 Oakland Press)

    Update: In the comments, Matt Weiner asked whether the ILWU could engage in a work-to-rule slowdown under a Taft-Hartley injunction. Read this article to understand that destroying that option is the point of the Taft-Hartley injunction. Here is the key part:

    The last-minute offer, which emerged Tuesday morning, was an attempt to avoid White House intervention in the port dispute but left port employers with no guarantee that they would be able to clinch a new contract, [PMA president] Miniace said. "This was merely a Band-Aid on a broken process, a Band-Aid on a serious wound," Miniace said. "The union is still threatening work slowdowns."
    Note the phrasing-- the employers want a "guarantee" to "clinch a contract"; this is all about the Bush administration siding with employers to force a contract down the union's throat by taking away their workplace power to strike, slowdown or engage in any traditional union power to bargain for a fair contract.

    Note: Court Grants Injunction - in the injunction request, the Bush Administration asked "the court to require work at the ports to 'resume at a normal pace''"-- ie. use the threat of jailing union leaders to stop any slowdown or work-to-rule tactics by the union, exactly what the employers wanted.

    Posted by Nathan at October 8, 2002 05:02 PM

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    If there's any upside to this latest move, it's that Bush has probably blown whatever momentum he has gained amongst unions. When James P. Hoffa, who has developed a cordial relationship with W, throws his full support behind the longshoremen, this can't be good news for the Bush administration. I could be dead wrong, but I strongly believe that Bush has seriously jeopardized his chances of winning Pennsylvania and Michigan in 2004. There's always a silver lining, I guess...

    Posted by: Yuval Rubinstein at October 8, 2002 08:41 PM

    What I don't get is why the Teamsters endorse chimpco etc in the first place.

    Outside of baseball players, it's the only union that votes gop.

    Posted by: jdw at October 8, 2002 10:18 PM

    The Teamsters endorsed Gore last year. The Teamsters also endorsed Clinton in both his campaigns. And despite the rhetoric, the Teamsters are still overwhelmingly endorsing Democrats across the country and giving most of their campaign funds to Democrats.

    And this stunt by Bush is probably going to push the Teamsters even farther away.

    Posted by: Nathan Newman at October 8, 2002 10:28 PM

    ooops, mea culpa...thought that they threw their endorsement to chimpy. When was the last time they endorsed a gooper...Nixon?

    Posted by: jdw at October 8, 2002 10:49 PM

    The Teamsters endorsed Reagan in both his elections and George Senior in 1988. Then Ron Carey was elected and they switched to supporting Clinton. THe history of the Teamsters and the Dems has decades of strained relations, from the Kennedy's legal pursuit of Hoffa Senior to the GOP deals with the Teamsters beginning with Nixon. I wrote a bit about this in this article a few years ago.

    Posted by: Nathan Newman at October 8, 2002 10:57 PM

    Thanks...fascinating read.

    Posted by: jdw at October 8, 2002 11:52 PM

    The Teamsters endorsed Reagan in 1984.

    Posted by: William Burton at October 9, 2002 12:46 AM

    Don't confuse the actions of union leaderships with how their members vote. There was a book out about 5 years ago (sorry, I remember neither title nor author) by a man who was Jackie Presser's press secretary (?) throughout the eighties, who said that that leadership routinely lied about internal votes every time they endorsed a Republican for president. The leadership, for various reasons such as prosecutions, has often gone Republican, the membership has always gone Democratic.

    Posted by: Steve Cohen at October 10, 2002 08:48 AM

    Yes- that's the book I referenced in the article I wrote a few years ago. The book is DEVIL'S PACT: INSIDE THE WORLD OF THE TEAMSTERS (1996) by F.C. Duke Zeller.

    Posted by: Nathan Newman at October 10, 2002 08:59 AM

    My contacts in labor say the Carpenter's Union is also right-leaning. (GW Bush spoke at the Pittsburgh-area Carpenter's Union picnic this Labor Day; he's not welcome at the citywide parade.)

    Posted by: Matt Weiner at October 12, 2002 03:23 PM

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