‘Organizing the unorganized’: union recruitment strategies in American transnationals, c. 1945–1977
Union recruitment campaigns involve the transformation of a workforce’s perception of themselves and of their relationship with their employer. Campaigning for union recognition mobilizes this changed perception in a struggle to reshape the institutions that regulate the employment relationship. Such campaigns necessarily challenge managerial prerogative. Securing and deepening representation from the formalities of recognition and annual contractual negotiations involves a milieu of activists and employee insistence that every managerial or supervisory decision be subject, at least in principle, to negotiation. One difficulty of case studies examining union recruitment and recognition campaigns is their tendency to be one-off snapshots, with little historic perspective. We believe that only by considering the long-run dynamics of union campaigns can we appreciate the contingent relations between recruitment, recognition, and representation. The unparalleled and prolonged stream of American direct investment into central Scotland between 1945 and 1975 is considered as the context for the case of union organizing in IBM and a number of other US branch plants. The “story” of IBM is one where in the 1950s, the unions had a toehold that they were unable to transform into a durable presence inside IBM. A union recognition ballot, triggered by a misplaced piece of union opportunism, encouraged by legislative change, was decisively lost in 1977. We also examine how, in other companies, collective bargaining was established: in some cases, unions were recognized from the arrival of the American plants while in others, collective bargaining was established after prolonged strikes. In all cases, however, formal recognition belied a long-term struggle by shop stewards to deepen union representation inside the US branch plants. The material for this research is derived from a number of sources: union, company, and government agency documentation, and interviews with union officials, supported by newspaper reporting.