I’m currently reading Why Labor Organizing Should be a Civil Right by Richard Kahlenberg and Moshe Marvit. I’m not sure yet what I think about the book but it has some interesting factoids I didn’t know about and would like to share.
1. Many, though not enough, people know that when Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis in 1968, he had been traveling there in order to support a strike of local sanitation workers. But what’s not widely known—and certainly came as news to me—is that one of the grievances of the workers was that they were not given shower facilities to wash up after their shifts. As a result, bus drivers and passengers would keep them off the buses, and they were forced to walk home.
2. Organized labor reached the height of its power in the decades after World War II. It also, not coincidentally, reached its highest levels of membership in that era (specifically, 1955). But check this out:
“In the period from 1947 to 1977, workers in the bottom fifth [
percentile quintile] saw pay increase by 116 percent, event faster than those in the top fifth (who saw pay increase by 99 percent).”
3. Like many labor historians and sociologists (as well as union organizers and members), I often contend that the major issue in any union struggle is not pay or benefits but power: who controls the workplace. But this quote from Wal-Mart CEO Leo Scott was news to me:
We like driving the car and we’re not going to give the steering wheel to anybody but us.
Update (11:30 am)
One other factoid I forgot to mention: The eleven states that are most resistant to unions and have lowest membership rates were all Jim Crow states.