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Reckoning with Company Unions: The Case of Thompson Products, 1934-1964

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This study of company unionism at Thompson Products (today TRW) calls into question the usual characterization of company unions as uniformly ineffectual and short-lived. The company unions examined in this study were fostered and overseen by Thompson's managers with the undoubted purpose of keeping national unions out of the company's work force. But the author also finds that they evolved into organizations that successfully met their members' needs, partly because of external pressures, such as government scrutiny and competition from national unions, and partly because of some internal factors, such as the workers' unusual degree of loyalty to the firm. The author suggests that some variant of the company union might be a viable complement to the progressive nonunion model that is common today. (Abstract courtesy JSTOR.)
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... Over the last 25 years the company union experience in the United States has received renewed scholarly attention, including in some cases a more positive assessment (Cooper 2011;Fairris 1997;Jacoby 1989;Kaufman 2000;Nelson 1982;Pencavel 2003;Rees 2007). A major impetus has been concern that the NLRA's stringent restrictions on nonunion representation committees is a contributing cause of a participation-representation gap in the American workplace (Freeman, Boxall, and Haynes 2007;Freeman and Rogers 1999; symposium in University of Pennsylvania Journal of Labor and Employment Law, Spring 2001) and an impediment to employee-involvement programs and high-performance work systems (e.g., Estreicher 2000;LeRoy 2006). ...
... The objective of the unitarists was to bring capital and labor back together as partners in a common enterprise and restore peace and harmony using new scientific and professional management practices, treating labor as a human factor rather than a commodity input, and earning cooperation through goodwill rather than fear. This effort began with profit sharing and welfare programs and broadened after 1900 to include scientific management, employment management, vocational guidance, and employee representation (Jacoby 2003;Kaufman 2008a). Trade unions, in this view, are necessary to protect workers from grasping and exploitative employers but are not a long-run solution to labor problems because their inherent nature is to foster conflict and antagonism between capital and labor rather than promote harmony and cooperation. ...
... The progressive wing of companies sought to solve the "labor problem" by transforming labor management into an organized and professional activity. Thus, the personnel management (PM) and industrial relations (IR) movements were born in 1918-1919 and saw the development of structured internal labor markets administered by large-scale PM/IR departments (Jacoby 2003;Kaufman 2008a). ...
... Small groups provide to employers-and to employees-many of the benefits of collective "voice" without the NLRB-election liabilities posed by larger groupings. 28 Or take Finkin's proposal for nonmajority representation (which fits very closely Hyde's prescriptions for "caucus law"). 29 Is it realistic to think that employers will support either set of proposals? ...
... Ciertamente, unos y otros comparten la característica de ser una creación patronal. Pero, al menos en Estados Unidos, el verdadero signifi cado de esta intervención es objeto de un movimiento de revisionismo histórico, que trata de rehabilitar a estos sindicatos como auténticos organismos de representación obrera (Jacoby, 1989;Kaufman, 2000;Rees, 2007). En medios internacionales se confunde a los sindicatos blancos con los sindicatos fantasmas, también conocidos como sindicatos de protección, una clase diferente pero igualmente anómala de sindicato propatronal. ...
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