The Future Of Organized Labor
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 10/22/02
In my working
life I have belonged to 4 unions: 8 years as a member of the UFCW (United Food
& Commercial Workers) when I worked at Finast Supermarkets, 3½ years as a
Teamster working for Ste. Marie’s Gopher News, 5½ years in CWA
(Communications Workers of America) while employed by AT&T, & currently
a member of AFSCME (American Federation of State, County, & Municipal
Employees) while employed by Hennepin County, Minnesota. I have had many other
jobs in non-union environments, & can honestly say that working union is far
superior: better pay, better benefits, & more security. But being in a
public sector union trumps even private union employment.
The basic reason is that private sector labor unions are in serious decline. The UFCW is probably in the strongest position of the 3 private sector unions mentioned, but it faces erosion from non-union Big-Box retailers: Wal-Mart, Kmart. Target, Best Buy, Office Depot, Home Depot, etc. The Teamsters face decline from their own long history of corruption. Internal dissension racks the union & non-union carriers slowly gain larger shares of the shipping market. The CWA is in a very perilous position. Decades of security under the AT&T monopoly ill-prepared their leadership for dealing with the modern marketplace. The CWA is always reactive, rather than proactive, in its strategies.
But, public sector unions are probably as strong as they’ve ever been in this nation’s history. The prime reason, I believe, is that public service is about accomplishing a task, rather than making a buck. This singular focus fits far more naturally in to the mindset of unionism. After all, a union literally is the coming together of many as 1. Too often, in the private sector, where workers are set relentlessly against 1 another, young people are often quick to badmouth their unions. They see ‘the union’ as something separate from themselves, an entity that alone must protect & provide. The truth is, whether private or public sector, that the foundation of any union is ‘you’. Involvement, even if it just being generally aware of the issues & your rights as a worker & citizen, are key to keeping unions strong.
Yes, there are unions with histories of abuse, violence, & corruption: the United Mine Workers, Teamsters, Longshoreman, & Wobblies spring to mind. But most of these abuses, as awful as they were, came in response to, & were never as massive, as the tactics employed against them by corrupt businesses. Even at its post-World War 2 zenith, Big Labor’s power & influence in this country never surpassed about 1/10 that of Big Business. The biggest problem facing all unions is that of Vision & Leadership. Incompetence & small-mindedness are far more deleterious than out & out corruption. Too often unions are merely trying to hold on to meager gains, rather than broadening their philosophy into an increasingly hostile work future- codeword: ‘the Global Economy’.
To combat complacency, & to keep aware, I urge all unionized workers to do some online research in to the history of Organized Labor- both nationally & globally. Only with knowledge at the ready can the wheel of justice keep turning, & the blade of action stay sharp. I will detail more of the history of Organized Labor in the future, but for now remember that all workers owe Unionism a debt. Don’t think so? Well, you can go work a back-breaking job for 12 hour shifts, 6 days a week, for 50¢ an hour, with no breaks, vacations, grievance process, sick days, retirement plans, medical benefits, nor disability.
See? So, when next you think about your union, remember the most important part of it is always u.
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