Wednesday, January 05, 2011
Defend the Right to Organize!
Get ready for it. It's coming. A full-scale assault on the rights of working people to organize themselves for their own defense. The new Republican majority in the House, the new Republican majorities in state houses across the country, the new Republican governors--and some of the new Democratic governors as well--are about to scapegoat the trade unions for the nation's economic woes. And if they don't successfully blame the unions for the country's problems they will sure enough try to make them pay for them.
I've never been a member of a union. Well, except for the pathetic Freelancers' Union which is a glorified front for a profit-making insurance company. From a distance they seem like strange institutions: somehow it's a whole level of bureaucracy: leaders who speak a good line but, just like politicians, tend to disappoint when the fat hits the fire. Who needs them? They're just outdated institutions that are out to preserve privilege, protect lazy people who don't want to work, enforce strange rules, and make life difficult and more expensive for the rest of us, right? WRONG!
Unions as they currently exist aren't perfect. But if you look at what they really are and how they came to be, what they represent is hope. Here's the thing. We're taught to think that politics is something that's important around election time. That a party, an organization, is important only because that's how elections are organized. Once in power, these parties, they're just self-perpetuating money machines, right? Well the thing is what American political parties actually are is the brainwashing device by which American working people are dissuaded from taking matters into their own hands. Now I'm not embarrassed to admit that I have advocated, and will advocate, voting for Democrats. Elections have winners and losers, and I think it's useful to have a voice in who the winner is. But the real political struggle out there is not about elections, it's about who has the power to control society.
Unions were born from working people becoming self-aware: realizing that the corporations, the bosses, the rich people, had organizations of power they used to maintain and strengthen that power. To protect themselves against that power regular people realized that sticking together, uniting behind an organization, a set of demands, equalized the playing field. People died to forge these organizations. Industrial safety, food safety, a living wage, the social safety net, these things are all fruits of regular people threatening to withhold their labor, threatening to disrupt the workaday world, and in many cases actually doing so, putting their lives behind their words.
Unions today are rightfully running scared. When companies threaten to go out of business unless unions give back gains and protections they've won over the years, it's difficult to argue with the facts of economic crisis. But somehow at the end of the day it's the rich people who are still enjoying their bags of money while regular people are scrimping and stressing out about paying the bills.
The economic crisis is not the fault of the unions. The problem in the educational system is not the fault of the teachers' unions. The crisis in the auto industry is not the fault of the labor unions. The crisis in state governments is not the fault of civil service employee associations. The rich people, and most politicians either are rich people themselves or are the willing hired servants of the rich people, believe they are better than everybody else and that government should exist to protect their privilege, their comfort, their right to control the ship of state. They are selfish motherfuckers; and they do not want to pay for their own mistakes. They don't care that their economic policies are unsustainable, because they know that there are so many working and poor people out there that getting those working and poor people to pay the check will get them off the hook.
But don't be fooled by the lies that they tell. There should be more unions, more labor protections, not fewer. When you hear of governments asking working people to pay for the economic crisis, ask why! Why not make real estate developers pay? Why not make hedge fund managers taking home million-dollar salaries pay? Is your boss smarter than you? A better person? Should s/he have the right to control your destiny, to decide that a company should keep paying him or her four or five times what you make while you're turned out on the street? The rich people are fucking organized. They have a machine, a crazy machine that beats the rest of us down. And we let them tell us that we have to suffer when their crazy machine breaks. That's just stupidity.
Unions, even with their sellout bureaucrats, are a first line of defense against that machine. Regular people should heed the lessons of the union movement's long history. Each of us is only one person standing in front of that crazy corporate machine. But together, together we're oh so much more.