I know a little bit about unions.
My father was a union man, as was his father. Railroads in the first instance, and rocket motors later. In my 60 years, I’ve never wavered from my conviction that unions have been an unmitigated force for good, even when I’ve seen them be their own worst enemy.
The amount of “pro union” “fair trade” stuff I read from “liberals”is a bit disconcerting. There seems to be an element of old fashioned protectionism in some of it. Even occasionally an attitude of unmitigated self interest that seems more appropriate in a right winger. The union wage of my father was not enough to raise his 11 children, and he always worked two jobs to get by. But I know that he went to his grave believing that he literally possessed the riches of the planet compared to so many other people.
If people in primitive villages (and Earth has enough folks in this category that it’s a bit tough to even contemplate) have almost nothing, and sell nothing, not even their labor, we have a picture that no amount of coloring can turn rosy. We have parents who will dream of one tenth of what we take for granted, and despair of their life and family ever knowing even that much good fortune. We have people who would even willingly enter into what some might describe as “slave labor” and pray that they can hang onto it. So many things are really only a matter of perspective.
As I see it, Job One for the union community in our country is to get behind the concept of universal, unlimited, free education. There was undoubtedly a certain comfort in clocking in at the same company every day and being able to reasonably believe that you were on a track that would take you prosperously to the end of your working days, as well as providing what you would need after that. For me, when I try to view the future, I see all too little of that surviving, and believe that no amount of wishing or wanting is likely to bring back the old days. We live not only in a world of change, but of accelerating change. Bright people would want to upgrade their skills regularly, even if they perceived that as only a choice. For most, however, that will be a clear necessity upon which the prosperity of their life is likely to hinge. We own the education system. We pay to run it. Even if we have to put it on a tighter budget to make ends meet, there is no reason why we should not let ourselves use it for free. A process, it seems to me, that unions could feel comfortable getting out in front on.
Working men and women the world over need to collectivize their efforts towards promoting their general welfare. Clearly, the only institution on the planet easily and quickly adaptable to promoting such a course of action is organized labor. Capital (big business) cannot be trusted to honestly and generously value labor, and government is far too fragmented for the foreseeable future to get any organizing done. The folks at the Union Hall down the street from you can be forgiven for not relishing the necessity of doing the extra work required to move on and up in their careers, but there is no reason to believe that they won’t be more than happy to pitch in towards creating a demonstrably better world for all working people. If the effort is orchestrated, it can happen.
To my ears, this planet is crying out for true leadership. Any kind, any time, anywhere. I’ve seen enough to know that there is an “international” component to labor unions. I wish it was headed by the equal of the union giants of old, and committed to act as one to do for the welfare of all of our working brothers and sisters what Americans need to know daily gratitude for. We are what unions played the majority role in creating, and who we are will be diminished by exactly the extent to which we do not aspire to spread that good fortune everywhere.
I hope I know something about unions…