A strong, vibrant labor movement is a must if our nation and its citizens are to thrive. As the percentage of workers in unions has fallen from a high nearly 60 years ago of 34% to the current 11%, so has the typical income of working families. The growing gap between the wealthy and all others has grown to unconscionable levels, already damaging the vitality of our economy so needed to keep the economic engine running smoothly.
No one should rejoice in the increasing weakness in the labor movement; traditionally its strength is necessary for everyone to prosper, including the wealthy corporate bigwigs who seek to weaken – or even eradicate – all unions.
That’s why we herald the new weapons that unions have been using to fight back to strengthen their influence and build strength.
The United Food and Commercial Workers Union took a big gamble when it sought to stage a nationwide picketing of Walmart on the day after Thanksgiving. Some observers think the OUR Walmart effort may have failed, and perhaps the numbers of participants were not as much as the supporters wanted, but it did bring national attention to Walmart’s antiunion practices. See link.
The chances of a massive demonstration, to be sure, were not high, since in these times when jobs are hard to come it’s apparent the vast numbers of dissatisfied Walmart workers were justifiably scared to publicly show their prounion feelings since they may face retaliation.
Taking on the nation’s largest employer is a Herculean task, but it’s imperative to start somewhere, and the Black Friday effort is a beginning.
Then there is the worker center movement that involves partnering with community organizations to set up sites where nonunion workers may go to resolve disputes with their employers or to gain assistance with personal issues involving basic needs. In Milwaukee, the United Steelworkers teamed up with Voces de la Frontera, a community organization, in seeking union representation for workers at Palermo Pizza. Some 350 workers are involved in a strike that began July 1st.
This may be a difficult strategy, too, since the organizing effort faces many odds, particularly due to the fact that many of the workers who are Hispanic have been targeted by the Immigration and Naturalization Service enforcement. Yet, the strategy shows that labor is building credibility within the Hispanic community and is recognizing that a union needs community support to organize.
Traditional organizing is nearly impossible these days, due to the drop in manufacturing employment, unfair foreign imports and growing unfavorable labor laws.
Regardless of how successful the new strategies will be in the short run, they point to a positive trend among our unions to look for new ways to become strong again. All of America needs stronger unions and everyone should herald this development. – Kenneth A. Germanson, Nov. 24, 2012.