Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Thursday, August 28, 1997

Labor movement’s
role is growing again

THIS Labor Day the national Teamsters union is celebrating significant gains in its strike against United Parcel Service -- notably 10,000 more full-time jobs. We are at a point where the need for labor to organize is greater than for a long time. The purpose: to see that the drive for management efficiency which has brought America to its greatest ever prosperity retains the human component a just society needs.

Headlines about massive job layoffs have been milestones in the drive for efficiency. Fortunately layoffs have been followed by new job creation that nationally has brought us to our lowest unemployment in years.

The process shows that free enterprise works. The new jobs help bring us products and services we never had before.

But the transition from old job to new job can be painful for any individual. Ordinary workers do not enjoy the "golden parachutes" that richly compensate many fired corporate executives.

As a society we compensate the ordinary worker with jobless benefits, job retraining opportunity and "mini-parachutes" in the form of severance pay based on years of service.

These tend to exclude part-time workers who are a growing part of the labor force. Many more workers than ever before are part-time by choice, even if it means few fringe benefits. They are college students or whatever. But others simply can't find the full-time employment they need to support families. A just society must help them.

There is a critical rough cleavage in the nature of unions. There are those that leave management to management. They look to good managers to raise profits and will even go along with work force reductions if there is fair compensation to those cut and the union gets a share of the overall profit gains.

The ILWU is Hawaii's prime example. After its big strike victories in the late 1940s and the 1950s it cooperated with management to achieve greater output per worker to stay profitable and alive. It accepted, for its price, heavy work force reductions including the repatriation of many laborers to the Philippines. Without that cooperation our sugar industry would be long dead because of reduced federal price supports.

Hawaii government unions have not got this message. They have handicapped Governor Cayetano's efforts to down-size government. In education, in particular, they help perpetuate management inefficiency. Great teachers and great principals, all unionized, cannot be mobilized to do their best. Good managers also are under strong restraint of the building trades.

STRIKING new balances between management efficiency and a just society is among our major challenges here, nationwide, even worldwide. It is one Governor Cayetano's Economic Recovery Task Force cannot duck if it is to produce meaningful economic stimulation.

Shrinking the size of government, for example, is an absolute must. Given the structure of Hawaii politics this cannot be accomplished without key cooperation from within the labor movement.

The history of the ILWU, Hawaii's largest non-government union, now very active in hotels and restaurants, shows this is possible. If thousands more Hawaii workers can be recruited under ILWU-type philosophies Hawaii may grow stronger than ever, with more justice for all.

A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

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