FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

How I Met Your Brother

by DAVID MACARAY

In a bold and surprising move to expand union brotherhood, Richard Trumka, president of the 11.5-million member AFL-CIO, announced that his Federation would consider inviting non-union workers to join up. And in an equally surprising move, Trumka suggested inviting progressive environmental and civil rights groups (e.g., the Sierra Club, the NAACP, the National Council of La Raza, etc.) to form partnerships or quasi-coalitions with the House of Labor.

The announcement was made on the eve of the AFL-CIO’s convention, which began on Sunday, September 8, in Los Angeles. Although Trumka and his advisors deserve enormous credit for pursuing ideological alliances that fall well beyond conventional, boilerplate unionism, jurisdictional concerns and questions about the nuts and bolts of implementation are certain to arise. Still, this is a wonderfully unorthodox concept.

It should also be noted that, if this wildly ambitious undertaking has any chance of succeeding, there’s going to be a boatload of bad history that needs to be addressed before anything gets done—not only with the environmentalists, but with the pro-immigration movement as well.

Because unions have always been about economics, they’ve pretty much been in favor of leveling hills, draining lakes, felling trees, drilling oil, mining ore, and pouring cement wherever, whenever, and however possible. After all, labor’s stock in trade is jobs, jobs, and more jobs. Let the environmentalists worry about the spotted owl and banana slug. Understandably, this mind-set has been anathema to groups like the Sierra Club. It’s going to be interesting to see if they can find common ground.

As for immigration, labor’s record has been mediocre at best. Historically, labor has viewed immigrants willing to work for less than a living wage as a threat to union workers seeking a rung on the Middle Class ladder. That’s not an unreasonable concern. Consider the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, an insidious, right-wing institution that would abolish unions if it had the power. The Chamber is on record as being in favor of open immigration. Why? The prospect of cheap, abundant labor has them drooling.

The concept of allowing non-union workers to join a labor federation is not new. Indeed, in the mid-1990s I attended a regional union council meeting where that topic was discussed informally.

One of the delegates claimed that the legendary Industrial Workers of the World ( IWW, formed in 1905), inspired by the notion that the Brotherhood of working people should transcend artificial barriers such as union cards and administrative labels, made a change to its by-laws that allowed not only non-union workers to join up, but unemployed people and transients as well.

The discussion awaiting the AFL-CIO will likely resemble the one we had at that council meeting. While virtually everyone present embraced the notion of reaching out to our non-union brothers, there were some major concerns. The Biggest Question: What, exactly, does it mean to have non-union workers join a union?

Is it a purely symbolic or public relations gesture, or is there a practical side to it? Surely, as non-union workers, they can’t be asked to pay dues for union benefits they aren’t getting. And if they aren’t paying dues, what rights, if any, do they have? Can they run for office? Can they attend meetings? Can they vote? And if they can’t vote or attend meetings, what’s their role—besides padding the roster? The success of the Trumka initiative will largely depend on how effectively the AFL-CIO answers these question

But labor’s problems are more serious than by-law changes. A myth that needs to be dispelled is that the decline in union membership reflects both the American worker’s disdain for unions, and organized labor’s built-in obsolescence. Nothing could be further from the truth. Polls show that upwards of 60-percent of American workers have expressed an interest in joining a union.

So what stops them from signing up? The answer is simple. It’s the fear of being fired. Is it illegal to fire someone for seeking union representation? Of course it is. Firing someone for seeking union membership is as illegal as possessing heroin. But because it’s so hard to prove, and because the fines for getting caught are miniscule, companies continue to do it with impunity. Welcome to America.

David Macaray, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor”), was a former union rep. He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
Wayne Clark
A Reset Button for Political America
Chris Welzenbach
“The Death Ship:” An Allegory for Today’s World
Uri Avnery
Being There
Peter Lee
The Deep State and the Sex Tape: Martin Luther King, J. Edgar Hoover, and Thurgood Marshall
Patrick Hiller
Guns Against Grizzlies at Schools or Peace Education as Resistance?
Randy Shields
The Devil’s Real Estate Dictionary
Ron Jacobs
Singing the Body Electric Across Time
Ann Garrison
Fifty-five Years After Lumumba’s Assassination, Congolese See No Relief
Christopher Brauchli
Swing Low Alabama
Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones
La Realidad: the Realities of Anti-Mexicanism
Jon Hochschartner
The Five Least Animal-Friendly Senate Democrats
Pauline Murphy
Fighting Fascism: the Irish at the Battle of Cordoba
Susan Block
#GoBonobos in 2017: Happy Year of the Cock!
Louis Proyect
Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?
Charles R. Larson
Review: Robert Coover’s “Huck out West”
David Yearsley
Manchester-by-the-Sea and the Present Catastrophe
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail