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August 25, 2005

Two Articles on Northwest Strike

The Detroit News has an important column today on the demise of community support for labor unions which is tied in to the strike going on at Northwest.

Community Turns Blind Eye to Demise of Unions It Spawned

Maybe Michigan -- with its accelerating brain drain and declining job-base -- is becoming the Deep South of the North.

This state, which played a major role in spawning the nation's labor union movement, is now becoming a cutting-edge laboratory for the demise of unions.

What we built here is now getting busted here.

Even that phrase -- union-busting -- that once carried the full-force charge of an epithet has become a mild curse or even, in some circles, a term of approval.

The Teamsters, once the nation's most fearsome union brotherhood, slunk out of the AFL-CIO last month, at once weakening the nation's largest union and drawing attention to the consortium's modern toothlessness.

But the newly energized, modern science of challenging unions is fast becoming a Michigan export.

Frank Vega, who headed the Detroit Newspaper Agency during the 20-month strike that began here in 1995, now wields a publisher title in San Francisco, where his grit and expertise in management of labor relations were deployed in what were tense negotiations at the San Francisco Chronicle.

The San Francisco Bay Guardian, an alternative newspaper, reported July 19 that a memo from the publisher to management employees urged them to "not worry about sleeping quarters or food ... We intend to publish and distribute the Chronicle no matter what."

Ten years after the Detroit newspaper strike, when such hard-boiled tactics still carried the capacity to shock, Northwest Airlines is adopting the pattern without the social heat the newspapers took a decade ago.

Nobody's shocked now.

The pattern is set: Hire replacement workers. Hunker down for the long haul.

And keep flying, no matter what.

Travelers, with tickets in hand, nod and smile and in some cases wish the workers good luck. And then keep walking.

In more halcyon times, labor unions were full partners in Michigan prosperity and social progress: They helped raise much more than wages. They boosted the status of women and minorities, forged a new standard of health and dental care in southeast Michigan that created some of the best hospitals in the country, and bargained contracts that, at the stock market's inflated peak, transformed factory workers into 401K plan millionaires.

Whoosh. As Alice Randall, parodist of the most famous southern novel quipped, "the wind done gone."

Now, though, as the industries that relied on crafts and trades and factory workers dismantle the equipment and lay off workers, a company like Northwest Airlines is fully, extensively prepared to go to battle.

It's got the muscle, the jobs, the determination, and the public relations savvy to cast itself as beleaguered victim of unrealistic union workers. Most important, though, it has the tacit support of a community that no longer rouses itself in outrage -- even here, in a historic labor spawning ground.

Most of us will keep walking. And they'll keep flying, no matter what.

Yesterday's NY Times featured a story on Northwest's scabs:

The Replacement Mechanics

August 25, 2005 in Current Affairs, Labor Disputes | Permalink

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