Sunday, May 30, 2010

Union Strength: Chapter Two

Political Activism

There are frequent complaints, from both inside and outside the union, about unions involving themselves in politics. There seems to be an impression that unions have their own political agenda, and speak for all of their members. No organization, political or otherwise, can speak for each individual member. They can only speak to the goals of their organization. By extension, as a member of an organization, members are painted with the organization’s message. If a member disagrees with that message, they have every right to say so. Wouldn’t it be a more effective effort to help shape that message in the first place?

Union members seem to live in a fantasy world that allows them to receive the benefits of union membership without accepting any responsibility for working toward protecting and furthering those benefits. Whining about union dues, without looking at what they provide, is shortsighted ignorance.

The responsibility of your union is twofold, to represent you with the company, and to protect and promote the ability of unions to represent you with the company. This is becoming more difficult as union membership dwindles. Think about it. The more union members, the larger the union voice in the halls of power, the more strength unions have. This is the big picture, but we must promote it at the local level.

As individuals, we have little leverage when attempting to get our arguments heard. We are members of a union that is supposed to help our voices be heard. However, there must be a united voice with a clear message. Unless your union receives clear direction from its membership, they must determine the message for themselves.

Obviously, few issues can be handled at the Local or District Level. The national union must plan and implement the most effective methods of promoting the needs of the membership. Those whom they represent must guide them. This means that individual members must make their wishes known to their Local, the Locals must pass this on to the District, and the District must instruct the National.

All of this is internal to the union. To bring about change the union must interact with those outside the organization. This is where politics comes into play. Who can best help the union reach its goals? Public pressure can help to convince legislators, direct talks with legislators can educate them to the needs of the union, associating with other groups who have similar concerns can also help. However, to make changes, the legislators themselves are the required audience of the union message.

Fact: Access costs money. Union dues pay for this access. What is said once this access is achieved is up to you. Not your local, not the district, not the national union. You. If you don’t speak up, then you have to live with what is decided for you. You can object to your dues being spent on political activities, but you are still being represented. So why not involve yourself in the process?

This all starts at the local level. Are you satisfied with those that represent you? If so, then work with them to help shape a message. If not, look around you for those who might be better equipped, and willing, to represent your needs as a union member. Either way, get involved, and get others involved. The more active members, the lighter the load on each. Just imagine what would happen to your job should your union fail, then imagine what could be accomplished if your union succeeds.

What is it that you want as a worker and a union member? What are your top priorities? Are they close to home, such as job security, or keeping quality healthcare for your family? On the other hand, are they broader concerns, such as the right to organize, or preventing jobs from disappearing abroad?

Look at your household budget. We all have many different bills, and make decisions about the value of where we are spending our money. Is shopping at Wal-Mart more cost effective than at Safeway, is U-Verse as cost effective as Dish? We look at how our money is spent, what we get for that money, and make adjustments accordingly. We pay union dues, shouldn’t we make decisions how they are best spent? We are all part of the political process, there is nobody preventing us from making our voices heard, shouldn’t we take responsibility and help shape the message? I say yes, emphatically!

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