Politics & Prejudices
Right-wing power grab
‘This was the action of a Third World dictator’
Published: December 12, 2012
Walter Reuther did, indeed, want to move on from organizing just autoworkers to doing something for and about other workers and the oppressed of our society. But today's "labor movement" is a bunch of sometimes-squabbling unions, each concerned with protecting the special interests of a small, specific and usually declining group of specialized workers.
Today, barely 12 percent of Michigan workers in the private sector are covered by labor contracts. Even when government workers and teachers are added, less than one out of every five Michigan workers is unionized.
Does anyone think making this a right-to-work state would be possible if even half our workers were in unions?
Worse, many unions in recent years have caved in docilely to management demands. The UAW in particular agreed, as part of the bailout package, that most new autoworkers could be paid only slightly less than half what longtimers make. Imagine you are on the line today.
You are only making about $29,000 a year. Realistically, you can't buy a home and start a family; you can't even afford a new car. How grateful are you going to be to the union that got you that wonderful contract?
Bet we can guess. To be fair, unions have a harder task in many respects than in 1937. How do you reach the knowledge worker banging the keyboard in her lonely apartment as an independent contractor? How do you organize new immigrants who can't speak English and are scared of getting in trouble?
Well, um ... labor did the latter before, didn't it?
One thing is for sure: Organized labor has to do something to revitalize and reinvent itself, pretty fast.
Otherwise, unions may be headed for irrelevancy and then extinction, in this state, at any rate. They've taken a major blow, and they need a shot of leadership and inspiration.
So ... anybody have any ideas?
Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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