I sit here, tasked to write three or four paragraphs to activate you, to get you thinking that maybe, just maybe, we can win this thing if we all do it together. The thing is, many people — and forgive me if you aren’t one of them — don’t seem to know how a union works or even, frankly, what a union is.
For three or four years, things tick along pretty well. Folks get their raises, union stewards or staff show up when someone is in trouble or to help work out other problems in the workplace. When things go south, we call your bosses for you, talk to Human Resources for you, give you advice, answer your questions, intervene when coworkers can’t get along, write the newsletters, train the stewards, run the elections that practically no one votes in — all the things your dues money goes to provide.
So what’s the problem? Members pay dues, staff and activists provide services — that’s the deal, right? No — just no.
Think about why any of this works. Where does a union’s power come from? Does it come from hiring a hard-nosed lawyer to bargain our contracts? Does it come from making outlandish bargaining proposals so that when management meets us half way, we’ve got a great deal? Does a union get its power because employers just want to get along with employees and not be embarrassed in the newspapers? Does a union get its power from a bargaining team just saying “no” until management gets bored and caves in? You don’t believe that — not at all.
Unions get their power from their members acting together.
Unions get their power, ultimately, from their members being willing to withhold their labor rather than take a bad deal.
And make no mistake, this is about power. History, facts, argument and goodwill can only take you so far. At the end of the day — like they say in sports — it’s all about who wants it more.
We all want a good contract. If we could get a good contract by the bargaining team sitting at the table steely eyed and saying “no” until the cows came home, we’d get a good contract. It doesn’t work that way — you know it doesn’t.
Here is what I love about working for the union: I never know where courage and leadership is going to come from. It is found in the most unlikely places. The poorest workers will take the biggest risk. The single mom will become a tiger looking after her family’s interests, pharmacists will band together to look out for each other, members who understand unions and collective action will be mentors for those who are less familiar. Folks will bring forth talents that I, and sometimes they, didn’t know they had.
Start small — make yourself heard. We can do this.