Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Rick Wartzman's "The End of Loyalty"

Rick Wartzman is director of the KH Moon Center for a Functioning Society at the Drucker Institute, a part of Claremont Graduate University. He is the author of four books, including his latest, The End of Loyalty: The Rise and Fall of Good Jobs in America.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to The End of Loyalty and reported the following:
Page 99 of The End of Loyalty picks up the narrative as two titans of American business history—Lem Boulware, the savvy labor relations chief at General Electric, and Jim Carey, the president of the International Union of Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers—are squaring off in the early 1950s. Boulware was a master of circumventing the union, making the case to GE’s workers that they were being treated fairly and that being part of the IUE was a waste. “It must now be obvious to our employees,” the company asserted, “that membership in a union will not get them anything they would not be able to get without a union.”

But Carey wasn’t about to roll over:
As a ten-year-old boy, he liked to brag, he had led his Philadelphia schoolmates in a classroom strike against excessive homework. Carey was a bantam, small in physical stature but profane and truculent, once telling a company negotiator in the middle of contract talks: “I’ll break every bone in your body. Damn it, I’ll come over there and bust you right in the mouth.” One union man remembered that they had to change the ashtrays in the bargaining room to aluminum because Carey would smash the glass ones.
This to-and-fro underscores the importance that unions like the IUE had in the forging of the social contract between employer and employee in America —job security, good pay, excellent health coverage, and a pension you could count on. By extension, it also helps to explain why all of those things have eroded so badly, now that less than 7% of private-sector workers in this country belong to a union (down from more than 30% in the 1950s).

To be sure, The End of Loyalty is not focused on labor-management relations. Its lens is much bigger than that—and, as a social history as much as a business book, it looks at a wide array of forces that have caused the weakening of the nation’s middle class. Among them: globalization and heightened competition from low-wage countries; the introduction of labor-saving technology; a newfound willingness to lay off enormous numbers of people even when there’s no crisis at hand; the outsourcing of all manner of work; the decline of manufacturing and the rise of third-rate service jobs. Fueling all of these forces, meanwhile, is corporate America’s obsession with “maximizing shareholder value,” which has explicitly elevated the wants of investors over the needs of employees.

Still, Page 99 is a great reminder of this essential fact: Because of their ability to act collectively, workers across the economy were once able to counterbalance the inherent strength of corporate America. This translated into higher wages, better benefits, and improved working conditions not only for those who carried a union card but for millions more blue-collar workers whose employers followed the patterns set by organized labor. Benefit packages for millions of nonunion white-collar workers were also based on what unfolded at the bargaining table.

In short, the nation never would have had so many good jobs without unions.
Learn more about The End of Loyalty at the Hachette Book Group website.

The Page 99 Test: Obscene in the Extreme: The Burning and Banning of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.

--Marshal Zeringue