London The last several years the treat at the end of the trail has been lunch with an old friend and comrade somewhere in London’s Chinatown where we catch up on labor union developments and organizing around the world. Given developments in the USA where unions are contemplating losses of literally millions of members if the decision of the Supreme Court on agency fees goes backwards, as most widely expect, we mined deeply for good news and were rewarded with some deep veins.
One encouraging development continues to be airport worker organizing both in the US and, importantly since this is a global industry, around the world. The organizing has significant leverage and vital tactical strength in the impact of potential worker action in forcing the hands of airlines, airport contractors, and their legions of subcontractors. The recent backtracking by low-cost and fiercely anti-union, Ryanair, is a prime example when pilots upended their schedule. There’s much work to be done though even there. Flight attendants working the aisles are paid as little as thirty euros a flight! That airline and many others are routinely breaking all manner of European Union minimum wage and labor standards requirements, so one of the challenges, just as in North America, will be getting real enforcement of the rules. Work is being done there that seems promising. This is an ugly secret of worker exploitation that can’t be sustained by the EU. Another challenge, perhaps more difficult, is within the house of labor itself where the organizing, and eventual bargaining, means moving more than thirty different unions onto the same page. The chief negotiator better have a bottle of aspirin ready at his fingertips!
Another bright spot we discussed, that surely has international impact, has been the success of the 100% campaign by the giant UK labor union, Unite, so USA unions take note. The campaign has focused internally where Unite had collective agreements but didn’t have workplace strength in membership, so they set their organizing department at the task of focusing on internal organizing in order to fix this weakness. Reportedly they have netted almost 100,000 members thus far, and it is now a badge of honor in the union and a minimum standard objective to achieve 100% membership density or darned close to it in every shop. That’s wildly important and powerful.
As right to work becomes nationalized in the US for public sector workers, just as it has been in more than half the country for years, perhaps United Kingdom unions can teach US unions something that they have tried to ignore in the challenges faced by their southern locals for decades. These are good lessons learned from hard work.