FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Labor Needs to Launch a Counter-Offensive

by

A true story.  Following a monthly executive board meeting, the business agent, vice-president and I were casually sitting in the union hall, when a young man walked in carrying brushes, mops and squeegees.  He offered to scrub our windows and floors on a weekly basis, and quoted us a fair price.  We thanked him but said this place wasn’t an office so much as a meeting room, which we generally used only twice a month.  We did our own clean-up.

This young man—a very presentable, clean-cut fellow in his early twenties—studied the three of us for a long moment, then smiled and asked almost cheerfully, “Do you guys use it for AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings?”  Frankly, this struck me as a rather personal question coming from someone who just walked in off the street, but I answered nonetheless.  “No,” I said pleasantly, “we use it for union meetings.”

He actually flinched when I said that.  I’m not exaggerating.  He flinched.  When I informed him that the place he was standing in was, in fact, a union hall, he physically recoiled.  Then he muttered to himself, with the slightest trace of dread, “Oh, wow.”  That’s all he said.  Oh, wow.

You had the feeling he now believed he was in the presence of something sinister, as if he had stumbled into a coven of witches.  Needless to say, he high-tailed it out of there as fast as he could.  This kid liked us more when he thought we were a bunch of middle-aged alcoholics instead of union members.  If this represents the younger generation’s opinion of organized labor, Big Business has got nothing to worry about.

America’s unions are in need of a massive make-over.  Despite having always been the working man’s best friend, somewhere along the line unions allowed themselves to be demonized.  When you hear “regular” people (and not just rightwing Republicans and the privatization fiends who want to do away with free public education) criticize unions for being anachronistic, unhelpful, “corrupt,” unnecessary, etc., it’s enough to break your heart.

Apparently, everyone’s forgotten the role of resistance.  Resistance isn’t simply important; resistance is everything.  Resistance is as true in socio-economic matters as it is in Nature.  Resistance to slavery is what created the abolitionist movement.  Resistance to the English crown is what created this country.  Resistance—people rising up and demanding better wages and benefits—is what created the middle-class.

Resistance is why your bullying neighbor knows better than to steal your trash cans or park on your lawn, because he knows you’ll “resist,” by either punching him in the nose or calling the police.  Accordingly, the role of unions has always been to keep things “in balance” by fighting for better wages and benefits on behalf of working people.  Fighting how?  By offering resistance.

There’s a myth suggesting that companies pay their employees all that they can afford to pay them.  That is patently false (which is why it’s a myth).  They pay their employees as little as they can get away with.  Consider the state of the middle-class.  Why is it shrinking?  It’s shrinking because, with union membership at an historical low, there is not enough resistance to keep it from shrinking.  Profits are high, but resistance is low.  Do the math.

Here’s a shocking statistic.  The Department of Commerce reported in November, 2010, that U.S. companies just had their best quarter….ever. Businesses recorded profits at an annual rate of $1.66 trillion in the third quarter of 2010, which is the highest rate (in non-inflation-adjusted figures) since the government began keeping records more than 60 years ago. Shrinking incomes and fewer good jobs, but record profits and a soaring stock market. Not good signs for working people.

The AFL-CIO needs to hire a public relations company and begin the biggest pro-union public relations campaign in the history of the world.  Because perception matters, unions need to recapture the imagination of the American people.  Having succeeded in tricking the country into perceiving unions as “harmful,” the corporations are snickering with glee, thinking they have won.  America’s unions need to mount a counter-offensive, and they need to do it now.

David Macaray is a labor columnist and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor, 2nd Edition). 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

March 23, 2017
Chip Gibbons
Crusader-in-Chief: the Strange Rehabilitation of George W. Bush
Michael J. Sainato
Cybersecurity Firm That Attributed DNC Hacks to Russia May Have Fabricated Russia Hacking in Ukraine
Chuck Collins
Underwater Nation: As the Rich Thrive, the Rest of Us Sink
CJ Hopkins
The United States of Cognitive Dissonance
Howard Lisnoff
BDS, Women’s Rights, Human Rights and the Failings of Security States
Mike Whitney
Will Washington Risk WW3 to Block an Emerging EU-Russia Superstate
John Wight
Martin McGuinness: Man of War who Fought for Peace in Ireland
Linn Washington Jr.
Ryancare Wreckage
Eileen Appelbaum
What We Learned From Just Two Pages of Trump’s Tax Returns
Mark Weisbrot
Ecuador’s Elections: Why National Sovereignty Matters
Thomas Knapp
It’s Time to End America’s Longest War
Chris Zinda
Aggregate Journalism at Salon
David Welsh
Bay Area Rallies Against Trump’s Muslim Ban II
March 22, 2017
Paul Street
Russiagate and the Democratic Party are for Chumps
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer, the Progressive Caucus and the Cuban Revolution
Gavin Lewis
McCarthyite Anti-Semitism Smears and Racism at the Guardian/Observer
Kathy Kelly
Reality and the U.S.-Made Famine in Yemen
Kim C. Domenico
Ending Our Secret Alliance with Victimhood: Toward an Adult Politics
L. Ali Khan
Profiling Islamophobes
Calvin Priest
May Day: Seattle Educators Moving Closer to Strike
David Swanson
Jimmy Breslin on How to Impeach Trump
Dave Lindorff
There Won’t Be Another Jimmy Breslin
Jonathan Latham
The Meaning of Life
Robert Fisk
Martin McGuinness: From “Super-Terrorist” to Super Statesman
Steve Horn
Architect of Federal Fracking Loophole May Head Trump Environmental Council
Binoy Kampmark
Grief, Loss and Losing a Father
Jim Tull
Will the Poor Always Be With Us?
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s “March Massacre” Budget
Joe Emersberger
Rafael Correa and the Future of Ecuador: a Response to James McEnteer
March 21, 2017
Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt
On Being the “Right Kind of Brown”
Kenneth Surin
God, Guns, Gays, Gummint: the Career of Rep. Bad Bob Goodlatte
David Rosen
Popular Insurgencies: Reshaping the Political Landscape
Ryan LaMothe
The Totalitarian Strain in American Democracy
Eric Sommer
The House Intelligence Committee: Evidence Not Required
Mike Hastie
My Lai Massacre, 49 Years Later
James McEnteer
An Era Ends in Ecuador: Forward or Back?
Evan Jones
Beyond the Pale
Stansfield Smith
First Two Months in Power: Hitler vs. Trump
Dulce Morales
A Movement for ‘Sanctuary Campuses’ Takes Shape
Pepe Escobar
Could Great Wall of Iron become New Silk Roadblock?
Olivia Alperstein
Trump Could Start a Nuclear War, Right Now
David Macaray
Norwegians Are the Happiest People on Earth
March 20, 2017
Michael Schwalbe
Tears of Solidarity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit, Nationalism and the Damage Done
Peter Stone Brown
Chuck Berry: the First Poet of Rock and Roll
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail