Labor Advocate Online
Labor Day 2006 Special

Chris Townsend

The U.S. labor movement is a little light on the celebration front as we mark Labor Day, 2006.  We find ourselves swimming against many tides.  Membership is sliding, our power at the bargaining table and on the political front are eroding, and our very ability to influence and maintain the support - if not the interest - of the rank-and-file is weakening. Now might be a good time to engage in some cold, hard review of the real situation as you find it on the ground, in your workplace.  Do you work with other union members, or just dues payers?  If you are among the unorganized, are you doing something - anything - to lay the foundation for a union push sometime down the road? What is it that we are actually doing to mobilize and organize working people for real battles? As opposed to distributing hot air and rhetoric? Such as demanding that this or that politician solve all of our problems?

As trade unionists we clearly do better at the end of the day than the unorganized, but is that the standard and basis by which we want to promote our movement? The bulk of our many challenges and problems are beyond our immediate control. That said, we can do better at addressing the things that we can control.  Are we building and developing the kind of trade unions that actually involve the members, and that actually work towards improving their daily lot in life?  What did your union do today that stopped some boss from doing something, or that forced a boss to concede some material benefit?  By struggling and winning workplace victories we can begin again to instill a sense of hopefulness and optimism among ourselves, and the ranks.  There is no better way to rebuild or refresh your union than getting back into the battle against the boss.  Any victories that might come on political front depend first on this reinvigoration of our structures in the workplace.

Chris Townsend, Political Action Director
United Electrical Workers Union (UE)

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