I don't think Joe Hill would approve

Andy Stern has a knack for making labor news interesting. Check out this trial balloon:
"If workers are ready to go on strike in the United States, and we are ready to pay them to strike, it would be very costly," Mr. Stern says. "But paying workers in Indonesia or India or other places to go on strike against the same global employer isn't particularly expensive."

Such a strike, if it disrupted the global shipping of goods manufactured overseas but intended for sale in the United States, could be extremely effective, he adds. |link|

(that link is to a NY Times article, but if you want to read the whole interview and are willing to put up with a registration requirement, go to: The McKinseqy Quarterly: Shaking up the labor movement)

I've mentioned this proposal to three or four of my lefty friends since I read about it yesterday and the consistent reaction is visceral disapproval. I think, at bottom, that what motivates my lefty friends here is a feeling that if American unions follow Stern's plan then they will be joining their corporate opponents in a project of exploiting cheap foreign labor.

It's a reaction that I share, but I also think that Stern is grappling with a real problem. Modern corporations have global reach and vast resources. If unions are going to struggle against those corporations, then the unions must use their own (limited!) resources efficiently. Refusing to use cheaper methods of disruption when available is inefficient and serves to increase the boss' advantage. Pragmatically, then, it seems that unions must do something along the lines of what Stern suggests.

Still, it leaves a bad taste and I'm not at all convinced that this is a place where principles ought to give way to pragmatism.

Maybe I should add that a lot depends on how the foreign picketers are recruited. Elsewhere in the interview, Stern talks about building a global federation of labor unions. That's certainly something that my lefty unionist friends and I favor. Stern just seems to think about it in an overly mercenary way.

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