Thursday, October 26, 2017

We are the union

You are labor. I am labor. Everyone who works for a living is labor...You are probably not a union member. How do I know? Because only 10.7% of American workers are union members. Excluding government employees, that percentage drops to only 6.4%. It’s a safe bet you’re not...when nine out of ten of you don’t have a labor union, nine out of ten of you are getting screwed, because the people who pay you have more power than you, and will therefore keep more of the proceeds of your work...Forty years of rising economic inequality and stagnant wages for workers are the proof... If you think that our political situation is bad today, just wait. Unless we rebalance our economic structure and turn around the growth of inequality, it will get worse...

...In order to change this deep trend of economic inequality, in which people with money are able to take a greater and greater share of wealth for themselves, the imbalance of power in this country must change. This can be done in two ways. Either the federal government can do it with laws and taxes and redistribution of wealth—and this is not happening any time soon—or labor, meaning you and me and everyone who works for a living, can increase our own power so that we can take a fairer share of the proceeds of American business. This is how important unions are today. They are the only realistic tool to fix the most fundamental problem in our country. As long as unions represent a ten percent share (and declining) of workers, the inequality problem will never turn around. There is simply not enough power to stop that ball from rolling downhill...

...So we need more union members. To the AFL-CIO’s credit, they know this. Everyone does. There was much talk in St. Louis of organizing new workers. There was a resolution passed vowing that organizing new members is the top priority. This is nice, as well as meaningless. We have some major problems here. The AFL-CIO is a group of 56 separate unions. With some notable exceptions, most of those unions have been around for many decades, and are attached to specific industries, and when those industries decline, the unions decline along with them, barnacles clinging stoically to the side of sinking ships. There are many reasons that union membership has been declining for my entire lifetime, but perhaps the biggest one is that the world of organized labor does not model itself in any way like the world of labor in general. Labor, remember, is all the workers in America. Companies rise and fall, industries come and go, new technology takes over and then becomes obsolete; through it all, there are workers, ready to work in each new company or industry or field at a moment’s notice. Labor moves naturally in tandem with the economy. If we want organized labor to do the same, that means that unions must be able, at a moment’s notice, to move wherever the jobs may be, just like workers themselves do. Unions cannot see themselves as institutions entrenched in a specific business; they must always, always, be ready to organize new workers in new industries in new places. Fundamentally, it doesn’t matter what you do for work—you work in a capitalist system, and that means that you need collective bargaining in order to ensure a fair balance of power, and that means that you need a union.

 Unions must be there for you wherever you are. Always....the five biggest companies in America are all tech companies. None of them are unionized. The answer is, unions have failed to go where the economy goes. This matters not because big tech employees are the most important workers in America, but because if you understand that unions are a structural need that should be present in most every workplace, their complete absence from the five most valuable workplaces in America is indicative of their failure to be responsive to the changes in work itself. And this failure has made unions as a movement weak. And that allows inequality to rise. And that hurts all of us.

 If our ideal future is for every workplace to have a union, our actual future—if current trends continue—is for unions to shrink to a tiny island of a few million fortunate workers in a sea of hundreds of millions of unorganized people at the mercy of their employers...If we are not increasing the percentage of union members enough to change the balance of power in our economy that is causing the inequality that is driving the most basic social and political problems that afflict us, we are failing. ...Intrinsic to believing in unions, though, is the belief that we are all in this together. Everyone who works for a living has a common interest in a fair society that provides for all. And by that standard, those of us lucky enough to have unions have not done what we need to do in order to give that same gift to everyone else in our country. The only relevant things that unions should be discussing are: How do we organize millions of new members? ... if you want to, say, double the number of union members in America, someone needs to hire a lot of union organizers and set them up in a lot of places...The unions of today can pay to create the unions of tomorrow. We all are in this together. ... Turning around the decline in union membership. Turning around the rise in inequality. These are the things that matter. Each year we fail to do these things, we fail.

“Join Together. Fight Together. Win Together.” 

Abridged and adapted from here 

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