Printed from Kansas City IMC

Commentary: Labor
Re-thinking the objectives of labor activism
I am trained as an Information Technology worker. The traditional objectives of the labor organizers seem quite out of touch with the real issues I face. I worked at one of the large insurance companies here in Kansas City which is HQ in Los Angeles, California. Approximately 3/4ths of the tech dept was outsourced in-house.

This means that they were predominantly temporary contract workers: no benefits, mandatory overtime and no job security. This astounded me due to security issues and the highly technical nature of the work we do. But if a union organizer were to come in, they would probably focus on getting us benefits. I really think that one of the reasons for the bust is that companies did not want to pay these highly skilled workers what they are worth. Not to disparage other types of work, but network professionals are not easily replacable. Computers can't replace us b/c we operate the computers!

The real issue seems to be CEO salaries and everyone else's. The ratio of CEO salaries is sometimes more than 100:1 in the USA. In Japan, it is about 17:1. The Japanese usually spend the difference on R&D.;

Many of the issues affecting labor and globalization may be better served through the activism of shareholders. Many shareholders are now suing their corporate boards for mismanagement. I think of the dividends and share price that could be going to the shareholders that are going into golden handcuffs and golden parachutes. Many people just mail in their proxy votes and do not investigate the company's policies. A majority stockholder has a lot of influence on company policy.

If more individual shareholders start to show up at meetings, the foxes would have to get out of the chicken coop. Shareholders might be a great asset in providing a living wage. For foreign workers, this may be the difference of a 25 or 50 cent wage increase due to the lower cost of living in other countries. But many shareholders are oblivious to the weight they have. If shareholders find that corporate management is uncooperative, they have alternatives. Stock divestment is a much more powerful weapon and hits the corporation where it hurts.

I realize that these tactics may leave labor organizers out in the cold if workers realize that unions may not be the sole barganing chip. Labor organizers need to revamp their approaches to gaining benefits for workers. Labor organizers may see shareholders as advasaries and not necessarily as allies. Work managed in an ethical way as well as the division of labor are just as important as wages and benefits.


"This means that they were predominantly temporary contract workers: no benefits, no overtime pay and no job security."

It is precisely so that unions can't touch you that your employer wants you in jobs like this.