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part of the union

April 13, 2013

So I finally happen to be a part of a union. It’s not necessarily the best union around, and a lot of the people where I work aren’t actively involved in our local, but after the two steward training classes I just took, I’m more convinced than ever about the need for, and potential usefulness of, unions. And with two right-to-work measures coming our way in November, I think it’s important to get involved.

Our system is designed to protect private property rights, and those who possess the means of production (i.e., property) have the most legal protection and leverage in the marketplace. Unions, when their rank and file members are involved and they function properly, help balance the power in the workplace, which by default is entirely in the hands of the employer, who has sole input into wages, benefits, working conditions, job classifications and duties, etc. Unions bring individual workers together into a single collective unit, giving them more power and input than they’d have individually.

Workers’ power lies in their numbers, and without something like unions to help effectively organize individual workers, they have little leverage in the marketplace, being resigned to selling their labour for whatever the employer is willing to pay, under whatever conditions the employer sets, essentially being at the complete mercy of the employer. Unions simply allow workers to collectively bargain with the employer, with one voice, instead of individually, when they’re at their weakest. Unions essentially inject democracy (or at least a certain level of democracy) into a naturally totalitarian framework.

Most unions these days are extremely limited by their contracts, being purely ‘contract unions’ and signing away their right to strike, etc., being primarily a legalistic mediator between capital and labour instead of a more radical organization willing to fight for their demands continuously and agree to return to work only when they’re met; but even contract unions can still do a lot for their members and fair-share members alike, both in the workplace and in the broader political arena.

But what I think ultimately determines the quality and effectiveness of any union is the rank and file membership’s involvement. The more people are actively involved in their workplace unions (or even just actively involved in their workplace as individual workers united by a common relationship and material needs), the better and stronger they’ll be. Moreover, by being active in their respective unions, attending meetings, voting, etc., workers can direct how their dues are used and the direction the union (or at least their local) itself takes.

Unions aren’t perfect, but by becoming more involved in mine, it’s my hope to educate myself about the practical aspects of union activity and organization and the specifics of our contract, helping protect my fellow employees in the process, in addition to doing what I can to help push my union in a more radical direction (i.e., away from strict contact unionism and more towards direct unionism) as unlikely as I am to succeed.

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