What happens when your employer is a union and staff goes on strike?

Robert Ovetz explains this exact scenario in a recent article for Chief: The Voice for Workers.

"Last October 31, one of the largest nonprofit organization staff in the country began a two-week long unfair labor practices strike. Their employer was accused of unilaterally declaring impasse after it refused to bargain in good faith. Workers wanted more staff hired, more staff training, an end to being churned and burned by long hours, and better health insurance. In response, managers fired organizers, recruited strikebreakers, and drove their cars into strikers on the picket line. On November 14, the ULP strike ended when the employer returned to the bargaining table. Their employer wasn't the anti-union Amazon, Starbucks or Trader Joe's — it was a union, SEIU 2015, one of the largest unions in the country. SEIU 2015 represents about half a million workers throughout California in the in-home and nursing home industry."

How common is this, for the staff of a union to organize a worker's organization, i.e., a union, and be met with an anti-union response? As Ovetz reports, SEIU staff has organized at the national level, and in Oregon and Colorado, in the last ten years.

Union workers, workers employed by a union, have been fired for their organizing efforts, in addition to other strike-breaking tactics. Well, in a similar manner that capitalists are often the best Marxists – in terms of understanding that organized workers are a threat to unabashed profit, it seems that unions are getting better at crossing the picket line.

Ovetz concludes with an essential sentiment that goes beyond the strike, "If we are going to turn the workers movement around, we also need to take action in solidarity with the union's workers who are also beginning to organize against the exploitation of their own labor."

Harry Cleaver, retired professor of Economics from the University of Texas at Austin, offered this take on Twitter, "The transformation of union leadership from expressing the needs and desires of the rank & file to managers of the supply-side of the labor market, has been recurrent in the history of organized labor. Seems only fiercely democratic structures avoiding hierarchy can prevent it."

It appears that organized labor might be deeply beholden to politicians and (predominantly) the capitalist wing of the Democratic party. The history of union organizing in the US is replete with examples of unions as bastions of segregation before non-white workers demanded equality – within organizations claiming to represent all workers' interests. Few unions pushed back against the white supremacy that characterized US labor organizing during the 20th Century, including the United Mine Workers and the Industrial Workers of the World – the Wobblies. To be clear, rank-and-file members are the union, not union management leadership – or at least that is the political point Ovetz is emphasizing, and that unions should consider if they will continue to be relevant as places for political activity.

This is a terrific opportunity to recommend "The Tribe of the Moles" by Sergio Bologna, which traces the labor formations autonomous from labor unions and political parties in Italy during the 1960s and 1970s. Zerowork is also a useful approach to labor.