专访美国政治学与社会学教授FRANCES FOX PIVEN

Frances Fox Piven是在美国享有盛誉的政治学和社会学教授,她因在社会学理论方面的贡献,以及领导和支持贫困与社会福利方面的几次著名的社会运动而受到美国社会和国际社会的广泛尊重。84岁高龄的她近日接受了FLIA(Foundation for Law and International Affairs | 法律与国际事务学会)朱绍明对她的学术访问。访问中她就美国劳工组织和劳工运动的嬗变,以及美国劳工运动与世界其他国家的劳工运动间的相互影响发表了她的看法。


FLIA: Do you think the American labor movement is still relevant?


Piven: It’s relevant, but it is ENORMOUSLY WEAKENED by 35 years’ of employer attacks on labor unions, which makes it very difficult for unions to organize in new sectors of the economy. And because the old industrial sectors where unions were strong – those sectors have so diminished – unions are much weaker than they were. But, you know if you look at the public opinion polls, most Americans would like to join a union. But it is extremely difficult to join a union, and you can lose your job, and government protections for union rights are VERY, VERY WEAK. They’re weak legally, and they’re not vigorously enforced, either.


FLIA: What factors make it weaker than it was in the past?


Piven: In the 1930’s, the big industrial corporations had come to the conclusion that they were better off with unions, not because they were sympathetic to labor’s situation, but because there were the strikes – the spontaneous strikes that had spread through the industry were so disruptive to production. The reasoning was that if they signed contracts with unions, then at least during the life of the contract the unions would take on the role of ensuring uninterrupted production. That was a good bet. It worked. Not entirely – there were still wildcat strikes – but it helped to restore a degree of labor peace to American industry.


And after World War II, for about 25 years, American industry didn’t have any competition internationally. The industries of Europe had been devastated, Japan was not a competitor, China certainly wasn’t a competitor; China was starving. So, American industry could in a sense dominate the world and at the same time it could pay workers decent wages. It could do both. When competition with Germany and Japan – first – China came later – when competition emerged, gradually the American industry changed its position. It wanted to – because it faced competition, in order to sustain profits it had to lower costs.


At first, it lowered costs mainly by trying to press down on wages and by trying to reduce taxes which paid for government programs that unions supported, like social security, for example, or unemployment insurance. So, they gradually discovered they could do it – they could get rid of unions. And they helped to create a whole secondary industry of labor-busting firms – mainly law firms – which was reminiscent of an earlier period in American history when the big industrial corporations hired the Pinkertons. The Pinkertons were a private police force. They were bigger than the U.S. Army. And they were regularly brought in by employers to bust union efforts – with clubs and guns. American labor history has been very violent inthe past.


FLIA: But this private organization was legal?


Piven: The existence of the organization was legal. Whether what they did was legal is another question.


FLIA: There must have been some ways for the unions to protect their movement?


Piven: American working people had to struggle very hard to win the right to unionize, and they did not really win it until the mid-1930s. And when they won it, they won it because they had developed a capacity to shut down industry. We had mass strikes, sit-down strikes, where workers actually took over factories.


FLIA: Do you think there is still a good political environment for labor unions inthe United States?


Piven: No, TERRIBLE. It’s TERRIBLE.


FLIA: Would you like to talk more about this “terrible” political environment?


Piven: I don’t think it’s impossible for unions to recover, but they have a lot of challenges. One is that they’re not going to recover and reproduce the unions in industrial production, or in mines, because those are not big sectors of the economy. And that’s why you see now so much activism in retail work, in fast food restaurants, in Walmart, and those are harder sectors to organize. And it’s interesting that a lot of organizing is taking place not just in the workplace, but in politics. So that, instead of trying to win a contract that guarantees workers $15 an hour, they are trying through movement-like strategies, electoral strategies, to win legislation which establishes higher minimum wages as high $15 dollars an hour.


FLIA: How do you think the labor unions can globalize? Do you think the American labor movement can have some impact on other countries?


Piven: Yes, but I think that other countries have already had impact on American labor because business is international. What happens to the establishments that a corporation has in one country can affect the policies it establishes in another country. About 10 years ago there was a very appealing strike of janitors, building janitors, in Los Angeles. One of the reasons that they won is that well-unionized workers in Belgium put pressure on the cleaning company that hires those janitors in the United States. It was the same company in Belgium as in Los Angeles, and the workers in Belgium helped put pressure on employer to grant union rights to janitors in Los Angeles. So, that can happen.


FLIA: Of course, they are different in each country. Well, thank you, Professor.

© 2018 By Shaoming Zhu

shaomingzhu@flia.org

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