Thursday, July 07, 2005Growing up in the small-town South, I didn't have much exposure to labor unions. But that's precisely why they are so important to me now. I've seem what the lack of them is like: poor working conditions, low pay, no job security, etc., etc.
Down there, all I ever heard was the stereotypes; that they're corrupt and incompetent, or simply out of date. As I got involved in the Democratic Party, I realized that they were an important part of our electoral coalition and needed to be accommodated. After a few years experiencing the evils of Corporate America I became a real believer. I'm convinced that liberalism and the labor movement are indeed like a very old married couple: the two depend on each other, and if one dies the other won't be far behind.
Which is why I was so disturbed to hear about some of the negative reaction to labor unions at the TPM Cafe site. While I'm gratified about Digby's and Pandagon's responses, I'd like to throw my own two cents in. First of all, labor unions are what the Democratic party seeks to be: an organization of working people united around common interests and characterized by high levels of participation. As such we should pay a great deal of attention to where they succeed or fail.
Second, whatever their faults, they alternative to having them is worse. No labor unions means unfettered corporate abuses. Without them, workers are simply in no bargaining position at all. Theoretically the government could protect them, but as we have seen all too often government agencies more often fall under the influence of corporations without unions to apply counter-pressure.
Finally, unions are in fact more necessary than ever. The global economy and the creation of megacorps mean that we need more unionization, not less. Rather than being rendered obsolete, these changes are in fact increasing the number of people who are under pressure from corporations. What we are in fact seeing is the proletarianization of the professional classes: doctors, lawyers, academics, engineers - all are losing their economic independence with the creation of bigger and bigger companies.
So rather than consigning unions to the dustbin of history, liberal should be championing their re-invigoration. Otherwise we'll all end up in the garbage heap.
This is in fact part of a broader problem: the isolation of the various elements of the liberal coalition into self-serving factions. Like Chris Bowers, I am tired of the tunnel-vision displayed by the constituencies of the party. Both labor unions and their critics need to realize that we really are all in the same leaky boat.
P.S. Why did it take so long for this story to make the papers? Yeesh.