Labor Day found me reading many things about current unionism in this country. My son, Adam sent me one article from the Jacobin I found disturbing. It states that during the Democrat National Convention this year four major labor unions broke from the AFL-CIO Labor Caucus and caucused separately. These four are the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and both teachers unions the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). If you notice three of these organizations use the terms, federation and association instead of the word union. It is as if the word, union is a dirty word. The article states this about the four unions positions, “it’s part of a broader shift in American labor — a drift away from class-conscious unionism, unionism that believes fighting corporate power and the 1 percent is an unavoidable necessity.”
It seems these unions are concerned with serving Wall Street instead of their members and the public. These unions are embracing neoliberalism (a modern politico-economic theory favoring free trade, privatization, minimal government intervention in business, reduced public expenditure on social services) along with Republicans and Democrats like Hillary Clinton. Union leaders have been silently standing by while neoliberal politicians in both parties have chipped away at the rights of union members. While the NEA and the AFT leaders are getting in bed with neoliberals their rank and file members are fighting back.
In 2012 the Chicago Teachers Union members went on strike not just for themselves, but for increased public services that benefit the community. They didn’t negotiate for just wages, benefits and safety issues. They realized that if they fought for things to benefit and support the community the community would support them. Other union actions like this and also conferences on this idea have cropped up around the country. It is known as, “Bargaining for the Common Good.” With the growing inequity in this country I believe such actions are necessary. Rank and file union workers (and even more so their leaders) need to realize that workers and community have many shared goals and that they need to come together in solidarity to strengthen their communities and further democracy.
Most of the info I was reading over Labor Day focused on how union membership has been declining for decades. Most statistics showed U.S. union membership at 14.8 million (11% of the U.S. workforce). Article after article was pessimistic saying unions are outdated and no longer a source of any chance for meaningful change in this country. I have been known to be pessimistic sometimes (I’ve been accused of smelling flowers and looking around for a casket) but I’m optimistic that unions can make real change. That won’t happen with unions becoming neoliberal but it will happen when unions join in bargaining for the “Common Good.” Think of it another way, the National Rifle Association (NRA) has 5 million members, with that number they own and control a large number of our lawmakers. Whether you agree with their agenda or not their organization gets the job done. Seems to me that 14.8 million people working for the common good should be able to better their communities and guide the hands of a lot of lawmakers. What are we waiting for?
Dropkick Murphys: “Workers Song”
“Unions have been fighting the 1 percent vs 99 percent fight for more than 100 years. Now the rest of us are learning that this fight is also OUR fight.” ~ DAVE JOHNSON, “Labor’s Fight is OUR Fight”, Campaign for America’s Future