Monday, January 23, 2012

Unions: A Road Less Travelled?

After many years as conservative leaning Democrat (and a brief stint as what passes as a moderate Republican)I am a happy Independent these days like the majority of Americans. I remain a center leaning community and political advocate (now entering my 37th year). I am still a member of the writer’s union, though we get little to no recognition from the "big dogs" in the Labor movement. My goals remain bringing about a better quality of government, irrespective of (or perhaps in spite of) political party as well as a more vibrant and safer community. I believe Labor is not so strong as not to need friends on both sides of the aisles, and especially in the middle where the average American household lives. I can not believe, with the dramatic decline of organized workers in the private sector, that some unions will not accept friends where they can find them.

From what I’ve seen in my 37 plus years of political experience, our unions are treated like cash cows while getting little bang for their collective buck. I find it hard to believe that rank and file members are content to be in anyone’s back pocket. That’s not our way. I’ve personally witnessed individual union leaders decide who was and wasn’t getting their endorsements without putting the matter before the members. I’ve repeatedly seen Democrat candidates openly make fun of unions or those with no unions background (or sometimes, not even using a union “bug” on their campaing material) get endorsements (and money) just because of the letter behind their name while GOP candidates who were stewards or active union members were rejected. That’s wrong in my opinion. I see unions as being a pro-active force that supports each other and what’s in the best interest of working men and women, not being a patsy of some political party, which, in turn, is controlled by the same corporate interests as the other party. Both times I ran, while receiving few endorsements, I did have the support of conservative and moderate union rank and files volunteers, and that meant more to me than any endorsement.

There’s much Labor can do to regain its former strength and status. First, support pro-union candidates regardless of political party (and that includes Indies). Labor needs allies on both sides of the aisles, locally, state, and nationally. If the Democratic Party knew it had to work for the support of workers, it might not be so willing to take them for granted the way it has done over the years (and other groups as well). Meanwhile, if the Republican Party knew working class American’s votes were up for grabs, they might be a little less eager to unilaterally back big business. Second, look at building support among white collar workers. What growth in Labor there has been in the private sector has been primarily among white collar employees. This doesn’t necessarily have to be in the form of traditional locals. It can be employer or industry specific employee associations which focus on job security and availability of insurance or other benefits. Labor must adapt.

Third, look at the illegal and legal immigration issue as an opportunity to expand unions globally. Not every immigrant wants to live here. Some just want to earn some money; send a little home; and ultimately leave. For those individuals, they represent an untapped source. Why not bring them in; train them; teach them English; and in the process, educate them about the benefits of unionism? Unions can help get temporary work permits for them, thus relieving them of the “illegal” status while creating a work clearinghouse to help them get legitimate jobs. When they return home, they’ll take this knowledge with them and, hopefully, start organizing locally (which has the added benefit of cutting back on the reason for illegal immigration in the first place while improving the quality of life and building a stable middle class back home). For those intent of staying, unions can help secure green cards and employment by acting a job clearinghouse while, again, offering English language and organizing classes. They can secure sponsership while they work to become legal US citizens. It’s a win-win scenario for everyone.

Lastly, America is the only industrialized nation which doesn’t have its own unique labor oriented political party. With the largest segment of voters now registered as Independent and the irreversible disconnect between Washington and the rest of the country, now would be an excellent time for Labor to come together and form such a political party.

It is said that the twin sister of crisis is opportunity. It's time for Labor to step up to opportunities this economy presents; to think outside of the box and take charge of its future by take the road less travelled.

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