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 “Nightshift: 270 Factory Stories.” He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
Stavros Mavroudeas
Blatant Hypocrisy: the Latest Late-Night Bailout of Greece
Arun Gupta
A War of All Against All
Dan Kovalik
NPR, Yemen & the Downplaying of U.S. War Crimes
Randy Blazak
Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The Perils of Wounded Masculinity
Murray Dobbin
Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Globalization?
Daniel Falcone
Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, an Interview with David Hilfiker
Gloria Jimenez
In Honduras, USAID Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers
Kent Paterson
The Old Braceros Fight On
Lawrence Reichard
The Seemingly Endless Indignities of Air Travel: Report from the Losing Side of Class Warfare
Peter Berllios
Bernie and Utopia
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
Indonesia’s Unnatural Mud Disaster Turns Ten
Linda Pentz Gunter
Obama in Hiroshima: Time to Say “Sorry” and “Ban the Bomb”
George Souvlis
How the West Came to Rule: an Interview with Alexander Anievas
Julian Vigo
The Government and Your i-Phone: the Latest Threat to Privacy
Stratos Ramoglou
Why the Greek Economic Crisis Won’t be Ending Anytime Soon
David Price
The 2016 Tour of California: Notes on a Big Pharma Bike Race
Dmitry Mickiewicz
Barbarous Deforestation in Western Ukraine
Rev. William Alberts
The United Methodist Church Up to Its Old Trick: Kicking the Can of Real Inclusion Down the Road
Patrick Bond
Imperialism’s Junior Partners
Mark Hand
The Trouble with Fracking Fiction
Priti Gulati Cox
Broken Green: Two Years of Modi
Marc Levy
Sitrep: Hometown Unwelcomes Vietnam Vets
Lorenzo Raymond
Why Nonviolent Civil Resistance Doesn’t Work (Unless You Have Lots of Bombs)
Ed Kemmick
New Book Full of Amazing Montana Women
Michael Dickinson
Bye Bye Legal High in Backwards Britain
Missy Comley Beattie
Wanted: Daddy or Mommy in Chief
Ed Meek
The Republic of Fear
Charles R. Larson
Russian Women, Then and Now
David Yearsley
Elgar’s Hegemony: the Pomp of Empire
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail