Union power

Business Daily unfurls the red banner and asks the union leader who forced Wal-Mart to the negotiating table how he did it.

And we'll also be throwing the red banner aside when as an economist argues that sweat-shops actually help the poor.

Recessions are bad for unions. Rising unemployment weakens their bargaining position, and the jobs that go are often unionised, manufacturing ones. It's been the relentless pattern of the last 30 years since the peak of union membership around 1980.

But, you know, there are signs of life in the country where the union movement was actually born, by which we mean Britain where some unions now seem to have a spring in their step.

The GMB union has pushed global supermarket giant Wal-Mart no less to the bargaining table - and Wal-Mart is immersed in anti-unionism: when its founder, Sam Walton, heard that workers in one of his warehouses were joining a union, he just closed the warehouse down.

Business Daily met two of the toughest union leaders in Britain: Bob Crow, the militant railway union leader, and Paul Kenny, the leader of the GMB. So first how did Mr Kenny asked get Wal-Mart - known as Asda in Britain - to deal with him?

If you want to identify the source of non-union America, where do you look? To Ronald Reagan, perhaps. Not so, according to a historian at the University of Georgia.

According to Shane Hamilton, the genesis of what you might call non-union, Wal-Mart America lies in the 1930s New Deal.

Here's the argument: the New Deal represented a big intervention by the state into the economy. It tried to protect farmers by regulating prices.

On top of that, a few big companies distributed beef and milk by rail. The people who lost out were small farmers and they took their futures into their own hands by starting to truck what they grew to market, bypassing unionised railways.

18 minutes

Last on

Mon 25 May 2009 07:32 GMT

Business Daily Podcast

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