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January 23, 1989 - Image 8

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1989-01-23

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'Page 8 - The Michigan Daily - Monday, January 23, 1989

Kim Moody criticizes today's

union concessions

At Injury to All: The
Dcline of American
,8y Kim Moody
Verso $15.00/paper
Two years ago this month, after
striking for close to six months, the
United Steelworkers of America
(USW) returned to work with a con-
tract containing a $1.14-an-hour pay
cqt a loss of four paid holidays and
a week of paid vacation, a loss of
Sunday premium pay, and a loss of
1;346 jobs. Local union presidents
the only ones who vote on con-
tracts in the USW - had approvedit
by a vote of 38-4. The USW called
the contract an "achievement." One
of the four local leaders voting
against it called it "disgusting."
On this sour note, Kim Moody
launches hisdepressing tale of the
U.S. labor movement's long march
from the glory days of the CIO sit-
down strikes in the '30s to the cur-
rent period of concessionary con-
tracts, managerial offensives, lost
jobs, and decertification drives. Be-
tween 1981 and 1986, the average
wage increase during the first year of
a contract fell from 9.8% to minus
12%. In the last 20 years, the per-
centage of the U.S. work force that
is 'inionized has been halved; it
stands at an appalling 17%. And as
th richest 10% of the U.S. popula-
tion continues to grow richer,
unions that were once proudly class-
conscious discuss "cooperation" with
the employers who are destroying

Moody spends the first half of his
book trying to explain how this
could have happened, as well as how
the most industrialized nation in the
world could have the lowest union
density of any industrial country.
Moody assigns a large portion of the
blame to the increasingly aggressive
multinational corporations. As the
rate of profit began to fall in 1966,
setting off a crisis in the capitalist
system which has yet to completely
play itself out, big business decided
to get tough with labor. Migration
to the U.S. South and overseas,
where labor laws were lax and
unions frequently non-existent, dra-
matically lowered labor costs. At
the same time, corporate mergers and
diversification made the companies
pursuing these policies nearly
invulnerable against labor's most
cherished weapon: the strike.
But, Moody contends, the union
leadership confronted with capital's
onslaught is not much disposed to-
ward using such weapons anyway.
"Business unionists," as Moody
designates them, have accepted capi-
tal's twisted logic of a socio-eco-
nomic landscape dominated by con-
cepts such as competition and profit
rather than solidarity, fairness, and
community. As a consequence, they
have lost touch with the rank-and-
file and consistently sacrificed the
union's interests so that "their"
firms might stay competitive.
Moody traces the origins of this
rather bizarre form of labor leader-
ship back to the Second Imperialist

War, during which union leaders
such as John L. Lewis and Philip
Murray joined the U.S. government
and capital in a "cooperative" strat-
egy designed to stifle the class con-
flicts of the '30s and thereby maxi-
mize productivity. In return for a no-
strike pledge, a wage freeze, and an
abject surrender of shop-floor gover-
nance, the Roosevelt Administration
promised labor an environment in
which unions could grow.
Such a compromise made perfect
sense at the time for business: be-
neath the rhetoric about
"cooperation" was the reality of a co-
optation through which capital -
finally accepting the inevitability of
unions themselves - made damn
sure that those unions would survive
on "acceptable" terms. Moody's
chapters on the institutionalization
of this arrangement in the '40s and
'50s demonstrate how union bureau-
crats made sure those terms were ac-
ceptable as they centralized control
over bargaining, suppressed dissent
within the unions, negotiated in-
creasingly long-term contracts, and
substituted often flimsy benefit
packages for the CIO's once aggres-
sive commitment to social democ-
Moreover, business unionists
persistently tied the fortunes of their
constituents to the avowedly
capitalist Democratic Party, leaving
labor without an independent base
and, as that Party moved rightward
throughout the '70s and '80s, with
rapidly diminishing influence on the

Democrats' policy-makers. As
Moody ruefully and persistently re-
minds his readers, the United States
is one of the only industrialized
countries in the world without a la-
bor party; not coincidentally, it also
has one of the lowest union densities
and shares, with South Africa, the
ignominious distinction of being
one of only two industrialized coun-
tries without national health insur-
The doom-and-gloom notwith-
standing, Moody is insistent and
persuasive in arguing that all is not
lost. The second half of his book
catalogues a host of inspiring fight-
backs against aggressive capital and
business unionism, from the P-9
battle in Austin to the WattsCan
strike in California and from Jerry
Tucker's New Directions Movement
in the UAW to the growth of Team-
sters for a Democratic Union (TDU).
Frequently led by women and people
of color, Moody sees these and other
similar actions as potential
harbingers of things to come. If the
first half of his book leaves it all too
clear that labor's leaders have
forgotten why an injury to one is an
injury to all, Moody's account of the
growing dissatisfaction with such a
strategy from within labor's ranks
suggests the possibility of a future
in which the solidarity such a slogan
captures may indeed live forever.
--Mike Fischer
KIM MOODY will speak at the
Guild House tomorrow at 7:30 P.M.

Blind Tongues
BySterling Watson
Delta Paperback/$7.95
Sterling Watson is not new to the techniques of
writing stories. Besides the publication of two
previous novels, Watson teaches creative writing
atEckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. So
it's surprising that, in his third novel, Blind
Tongues, Watson uses many of the cliches creative
writing professors warn their students to avoid.
The novel starts off slowly, with the main
character, Merelene, waking from a deep sleep and
stuting a new day in a few too many chapters. The
reler eventually learns that Merelene is an aban-
doned wife, left years ago with two sons. The el-
dest, Bull, is fighting in Vietnam. Merelene re-
ceves a letter from him early in the novel. After
that, mention of this son is severely lacking.
The focus in this novel is on the younger son,
Roland who, bitten in his youth by a fly carrying
the disease encephalitis, is left permanently with a
child's mentality. He and his mother have a special

relationship that is challenged by a court order to
institutionalize the boy. Merelene follows the
court order, but after a weekend visit home, the
boy never quite makes it back to the institution.
In the wake of her abandonment, Merelene made
a new life for herself as the legal secretary and se-
cret lover of the hometown lawyer, yet she could
not completely rid herself of the love for her hus-
band, Mayfield. And her husband returns after a 15-
year absence in which he made his fortune - he
claims to have made this fortune in the hopes of
financing Roland's cure. The psychological reper-
cussions of his return add the stimulus needed to
get this novel going. Watson's narrative becomes
complicated and exciting as he weaves together the
relationships, both past and present, between the
Watson shows us Merelene as a girl of 17,
falling in love with Mayfield, a stranger to the
town, who seems very mysterious and all knowing
at the age of 21. He shows us Mayfield as a caring
father during the day but restless and crazy in his
escapades with his male friends at night. The reader

sees Merelene young and alone with two small
boys, left to face the gossip that goes along with a
small town. And Watson also reveals a strange re-
lationship between Mayfield and the doctor that
developed in their days together during World War
Right when the plot is in its thickest state,
when Merelene must chose between her love for
her husband or for the lawyer, Watson choses the
easy way out. He allows Merelene not to have to
make a decision by supplying Mayfield with a fa-
tal heart attack. He kills the plot, the tension, and
the reader's interest in the story.
Watson's Blind Tongues is worth reading for
his careful and intriguing writing in the middle
chapters, but his killing of one of the main
characters and his happily-ever-after ending are dis-
appointments. They are surprising plot elements
to be coming from an instructor of creative writ-
ing. If Sterling Watson had revised his novel one
more time, he would have had a much better pub-
- Jill Pisoni

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Continued from Page 7
the store. The handle for this group-t
ing is Fiction (Belles Lettres.) It's all
alphabetical; Borders doesn't subdi-
vide for Romantic or Modernist or
Minimalist fiction. But they do
deviate from their lump-it-all-to-
gether philosophy by shelving fic-
tion by Black writers in a separate1
section called Black Lit. Toni Morri-
son, Alice Walker, and James Bald-
win all await their readers here. The
work of other "ethnic" authors, Isaac
Bashevis Singer and Gabriel Garcia
Marquez, for example, doesn't get
this treatment.
Steve Adams and Steve Miller,'
who work at the bookstore, have
good reasons for giving Black writers
their own shelf. "In the '60s," recallst
Miller, "the Black Ccommunity de-
manded that we do it this way." Ac-1
cording to Adams, the store has
maintained the segregated status be-
cause the separate shelf is a "better
forum, a better platform" for Black
writers. "Some great authors never
would have been discovered other-
wise. We have regular customers
who walk straight back to that sec-
tion. We sell more this way," he as-
serts. His stance makes sense; a
bookstore's business is selling
Borders deserves praise for being
concerned about the fate of Black lit-
erature, not to mention for con-
tinually stocking the titles that are
otherwise unavailable in Ann Arbor
In another light though, labelling a
work of fiction by the color of its
author presents some sticky philo-
sophical issues.
Prizes of $100 each will
be awarded for the best
undergraduate and
graduate essays on
women written at UM
during 1988. For con-
test guidelines contact
The Women's Studies
Program, 234 W. Engi-
neering, at 763-2047.
Deadline: January 31,

Al Young, poet, novelist, and jazz
critic, whose work can be found in
the Black Lit. section, worries that
"the minute you get categories like~
that, people's defensestgo up. You
hear 'Black fiction' and immediately
you expect rats, roaches, anger, and
crack." Charles Johnson is another
important Black writer who's just
written a critical assessment of
contemporary Black fiction called
Being and Race. He shares Young's
bafflement, arguing "To ghetto-ize
writers is the worst thing we can do."
Ideally, fiction by Black writers..
- like blues by white performers
should be located by the handle
which describes it. The handles 9
themselves are at best a necessary
accomodation and at worst a confus-
ing and dangerous system. When th,
confusion gets magnified and dis-
torted because of sensitive racial is-
sues, the only safety net a store has
is the tried-and-true maxim: Trust the:
Art, Not the Artist.


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