Joe Burns: Reviving the Strike

Joe spoke to us on March 2, 2014 about his last book, Reviving the Strike, and his upcoming one on the strike wave that led to the great organizing of municipal workers in the 1960s.   You can download a wav. file of Joe’s talk here.

In summary though, Joe gave a very thorough review of how times of high strike frequency are highly correlated with periods of rapid growth in union organizing.  His historical analysis of this point is by itself worth listening too, because the connection between those two developments — rates of striking and rate of union growth — are too linked to ignore.

He discussed other forms of union organizing, including participation in NLRB elections, corporate campaigns, and social unionism, not to disparage them (although this altbanker would do so re NLRB elections), but to point out that they are just inadequate by themselves.

Most dramatically (and radically) he strongly advanced the notion that industry-wide and generally “secondary” strike are absolutely necessary because of the risk of replacement facing workers who engage in employer-specific strikes, as happened to the AMFA mechanics at  Northwestern.  That kind of strategy is illegal under current law, and Joe’s response is effectively — so what, union strike waves have never complied with then-existing labor law, so labor should not allow itself to be limited by current legal norms.

He talked some about how his thinking has been part of, and/or contributed to a nascent surge of radicalism in the labor movement, best exemplified by the Chicago Teachers union. In this vein, he talked about the importance of such efforts working in tandem with social unionism, where union organizing efforts are part of a larger societal political education and outreach effort.

He concluded by talking about his next book, due to come out in April ,Strike Back, which deals with the much-ignored strike waves of the 1960s in the public sector, how that occurred against the back-drop of numerous public sector union’s actually prohibiting strikes under their constitutions.  He views this trend as part of the general radicalism of the 1960s, and most importantly, explains the phenomenal growth in public sector unionism that comes from these activities.  Again, he focused on how current bars to public employee strikes can’t limit strategy.

Joe’s message is incredibly thought-provoking, thoroughly researched. and a harsh challenge to anyone who believes that change to current systems of wealth distribution can meaningfully occur through essentially non-conflictual community outreach efforts and doings of good-works, The sad fact is … it probably can’t.