Union Values and the Test of Time

Dave Johnson

I was in DC a few weeks ago, and stopped by the AFL-CIO building. While I was there I bought a hat with AFL-CIO on it. Inside the hat is a label, “Union Made in the USA.” I was looking at this yesterday and thinking about how unions wouldn’t buy cheap hats made in China. They don’t use non-union print shops. They stick together when other workers are trying to bargain for wages, benefits, rights and respect. And this got me thinking about where we are with the economy, after how many years of corporate/conservative domination of the “marketplace of ideas.”

So let’s look at some of the core values of America’s labor movement, and see how they are standing up to the “stress test” our economy is undergoing.

According to the National Labor Relations Board,

“Congress enacted the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) in 1935 to protect the rights of employees and employers, to encourage collective bargaining, and to curtail certain private sector labor and management practices, which can harm the general welfare of workers, businesses and the U.S. economy.”

This statement reflects values: Protecting rights. Encouraging collective action. Promoting the general welfare of workers, businesses and the economy. This is a statement that says promoting democracy, justice and equality boosts all of us, helping us to prosper together.

Please read Section 1 of The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). In summary it says that lack of bargaining power by workers against corporations leads to depressions (we call them recessions now) because of depressed purchasing power. And it leads to strikes which disrupt commerce. Therefore it is the policy of the United States to encourage collective bargaining. If you have more time, read through some of the things this law says. You will be shocked at the extent to which our government now ignores its own laws, allowing businesses to fire organizers and intimidate workers.

Now take a look at the AFL-CIO mission statement:

The mission of the AFL-CIO is to improve the lives of working families—to bring economic justice to the workplace and social justice to our nation.

This doesn’t say they do this for AFL-CIO members only, it says they do this for all of us.

Change To Win says they are,

… a new movement of working people equipped to meet the challenges of the global economy and restore the American Dream in the 21st century: a paycheck that can support a family, affordable health care, a secure retirement and dignity on the job.

The SEIU says they are.

W… an organization of 2.2 million members united by the belief in the dignity and worth of workers and the services they provide and dedicated to improving the lives of workers and their families and creating a more just and humane society.

Values: To improve lives. Social justice. Dignity. Just and humane. Security. People in unions believe things like: Solidarity: Stick together. Protect jobs. Good wages and good benefits for any of us help all of us.

Values that so many of us agree with.

In recent decades we have seen a corporate/conservative campaign of propaganda against these values. “Greed is good.” “The market should decide.”

democracy

Today a lot of people and companies went for the short-term solutions, the cheapest-made products, the wage cuts.
So how’s that working out for you now?

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