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Unions Have Survived Tough Times Before


Unions Have Survived Tough Times Before

Sarah Anderson

The U.S. Supreme Court has just dealt unions a bruising blow. In a 5-4 vote, the court ruled that public sector employees who benefit from unions’ collective bargaining services will no longer have to pay for them.


Enough of the bullshit. Unions are dead. When was the last fucking time a union helped anybody. They are a spent force and the laws and the corporations are making sure they stay that way.


The only union I know that helps its members is Longshoremen and Warehousemen on the west coast. Today most unions are the problem along with their friends the demodogs.


Thanks for this reminder of past battles. We need to look back an era when inequality was near present levels to find models for moving forward.

The old model of “bread and butter” unionism for public employees is now under severe attack and in the near future I think we can expect a wave of strikes. In most states, even fairly liberal ones, public employees strikes are illegal. Penalties start at fines of individual strikers but can move on to firing. Unions can be broken, as Reagan demonstrated with PATCO, and most workers cannot risk losing their incomes. Public employees are not like the old teamsters and mine workers and wil never turn to violence or intimidation to defeat strikebreakers. But that need not mean despair. A new model of unionism inspired by democratic socialist principles can be forged in the face of these threats. The recent primary win of DSA activist Alexandria Ocasio Cortez may be a sign of what is to come.


My thanks to the old unions that established the 40 hour week, and better than starvation wages; however, the newer version of unions is not very helpful. I was a member of two of them and it was always a standoff between labor and management, not a cooperation agenda. And there is corruption, of course.


That would be nice, but we need to be real: the Court is going to make things a lot harder.


Management isn’t paid to cooperate with labor, never has been.


What we need are unions that are radical, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, anti-racist and will not in any way, shape or form have anything to do with the Democratic Party (or any capitalist party). As crappy as it was in the 1880’s for working people, today we facing existential threats that only we can solve: nuclear holocaust and environmental catastrophe. These two things require the overthrow of capitalism to solve. Our unions need to be revolutionary in outlook and practice.


The relationship between capital and labor is antagonistic, that is a structural relationship. That cannot be changed while we live under the capitalist boot. Unions that “cooperate” with management are what have been typical of US unionism since the anti-union Taft-Hartley was passed. Under this kind of unionism, sometimes called “business unionism”, union “leaders” have more in common with the corporate bosses than the workers they represent. Business unionism represents the decline of labor power; it has been disastrous for the labor movement.


One “union” that can exert meaningful power is the union of consumers. That is why monopolies are so very concerning as necessities and near necessities (think cell phones) offered by a limited number of competitors (a lot of goods are sold by monopolies using “competing” brands in plain view) can’t be pressured by boycotts and the like. Nevertheless, it is consumer behavior that seems to drive change. Therefore it is imperative that consumers be informed of the moral implications of their market choices. All of this being said, let’s keep working to strengthen the solidarity of the workers everywhere. Seems like that would make a good ending to a book on change.


Bold comment Tom.

However, very much true.


You’ve got it exactly backwards. Consumers don’t drive anything. And there is certainly no “union” of consumers, a union requires solidarity.
Needs and wants are created thru advertising (a trillion dollar industry). Were “consumers” demanding the I-Phone before it existed? No, of course not. Products are developed and advertising turns them into necessities. That consumers are the agents of change is neoliberal idea, the individual is everything, yadda, yadda. This is bullshit and self destructive to genuine progressive change. Consumer behavior is totally manipulated by corporations; consumers are sheep, they think what they are conditioned to think, buy what they are conditioned (via advertising) to buy.

Even when some consumers behave differently, say buying organic. First this was mostly middle class whites who were doing it. When the organic “movement” started about 40 years ago it was so small that it didn’t threaten Big Ag. When it became more popular it was co-opted.


In our two countries (the US and Canada) that is indeed true. However, check out some major European countries on this site (I set it up to take you directly to Germany):


All major countries, with the exception of the UK, are required by law to have substantial workers/union representation on their Boards of Directors!

The similarities between the UK and the US and Canada are striking. Clearly, we should not have patterned ourselves after the UK. (No need to explain to me why it was inevitable that we are so much like the UK, I get it.)

France, Germany, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and several other important countries would have been far superior role models.

For us, in North America, it is a sad state of affairs.


In the 1968 May/June uprising in France (40 years ago) students had a slogan: “Be practical! Do the impossible!”
As Murray Bookchin says in his book The Ecology of Freedom, that slogan - and practice - will need to be updated to something like: “if we don’t do the impossible, we shall be faced with the unthinkable.”


Economic laws operate whether they are known or not, but if we understand their operation we can bend them to our purpose and assist society along the course it tends to travel.

Under the capitalist system, the, constant striving for profits from investments always endeavours to bring real wages down. Unless the workers engage in collective struggle to maintain their living standards they and their families would become destitute, and this type of struggle, trade union struggle, develops spontaneously among the workers.

This economic struggle is allowed for by the capitalist system, and is even necessary for its continuation, for how else can the workers, whom the capitalist needs to exploit, how else can they survive? One thing capitalism must not do, at its peril—it must not kill the goose that lays the golden egg. We are all for militant trade unionism. It is fine as far as it goes. But it only goes so far and no further. The trade unions see their struggle as one waged primarily inside the capitalist system for the improvement of the worker’s condition. The trade unions fight around contracts serves as an excellent example of the limitation of the unions. But even a ”good contract” still simply means the worker has only won a better deal for the selling of his or her labour power, the fundamental causes of this problem still exists – the capitalist system. The working class needs unions, but much more, it needs a revolutionary socialist party. We do not win the workers to revolutionary politics simply by sloganising, but must educate and agitate in order to raise class consciousness. Socialists attack the fundamental cause of the workers’ problems - the capitalist system itself.


I was union for over 20 years. I know I made more money and had somewhat better working conditions because of that. I agree that union dues should not be used for union political activity. I never contributed to my union’s political fund because they gave to establishment Democrats who were often not the least bit progressive, and often crapped all over those unions because they got more money from corporate lobbyists and interests. I only gave to individual candidates I truly supported. I also know that union leadership can be corrupt and complacent, and operate in the interests of it’s officers and local chairmen. I’ve seen more than one local official be off on “union business” more because it meant they didn’t have to work their regular job, than because of union “business”. I also saw one merger between old-line unions that would have made a lot of sense (United Transportation Union/Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers) go down in flames because the leadership of both unions wrote expensive golden parachutes into the merger for their current officials that would have resulted in large dues increases for the rank-and-file members of the newly merged union. Get rid of that kind of corruption, and truly represent the rank-and-file, and the union movement would be much, much more popular than it is currently. Big lies about big labor, or any other group, usually gain traction because there is a kernel of truth to them. For decades, the mob controlled the Teamsters, maybe they don’t anymore, but having another Hoffa in charge of it didn’t help their credibility any. I believe in unions, even (maybe even especially) for public employees (although the police unions may be another story because of their protecting bad cops), but clean your houses.


Shame on you. I live in a union family.


I am a staunch union supporter. Like everything else the particular unit is only as good as its leadership. The leadership shouldlook in the mirror. The workers are the ones who need to be protected. Only seven per cent of the workforce is in a union.


Yes, thanks to the old unions there is a forty hour week ( for some) healthcare, vacations, medical leave, and protection against discrimination and harrassment.


Of course, Elites have used MAFIA and violence to attack unions as well –

Elites/right wing violence has never stopped especially in regard to workers
organizing to improve conditions for workers – and to improve wages and benefits.

In the recognition that we are all LABOR there is an obvious bond of understanding –
even on a spiritual level. With that understanding LABOR can act together without
legal affirmation to improve conditions. It is that kind of awakening and working together
which must become more widely embraced: human understanding.