Accueil » 39-2 ( 1984) » La crise du syndicalisme nord-américain: éléments d'interprétation

La crise du syndicalisme nord-américain: éléments d'interprétation

Carla Lipsig-Mummé


L'auteur explore deux avenues de ce qu'il faut déjà entrevoir comme la crise contemporaine du syndicalisme nord-américain.


The past decade has not been a propitious time for North American unions. Regardless of political ideology, public and private sector unions have alike experienced the attenuation of their political influence, a dramatic loss of membership, a growing passivity among the members who remain, and the undermining of acquired rights, sometimes to the point of union decertification. Union-busting has become a big business in the United States, while three out of five new unions formed in Canada choose independence rather than affiliation to an existing central. For the first time since the 1920's, the principal political powers are replacing the notion of the union as spokesperson for the exploited by the value-laden concept of the union as a labor aristocracy. What are the roots of this crisis of de-unionization? The paper looks first at the politic-economic context and argues that shifts occurring in the international division of labor have incited the major labor-intensive industries in North America to move against their unions by dramatic layoffs and cuts in benefits, at the same time as they pressure their states to reduce social supports for those who have joined the ranks of the structurally and permanently unemployed. The resulting fiscal crisis of the state has turned federal and state provincial governments, of whatever political coloration, to using their unions as scapegoats in the present crisis. «Scapegoat politics» in the industrial relations arena means cutting adrift minority unionism. The second line of analysis looks at two reasons why North American unions have not been able to defend themselves and crystallize new strategies for their changed environment. The first of these reasons concerns the post-Depression institutional dependence of unions, regardless of their ideology, upon their respective states, including the assumption that states will establish for unions the whole gamut of threshold conditions that minority unionism cannot gain et the highly decentralized bargaining tables. The second reason for the present reactive confusion of North American unions resides in their generalized abdication of bargaining over technology and production decisions, an abdication which has left them terribly vulnerable to the ravages of layoffs and retooling. The paper goes on to look at several dimensions of union dependence, through the notion of integration in relation to the state. It ends on a pessimistic note.