I posed some questions and issues to social justice leaders for comment on the Labor Day postings for this year. There will be three postings: Monday August 26th, Tuesday August 27th and Wednesday August 28th. The responses are interesting and inspiring.
What is the political-economic – moral strength of the labor movement at the present time?
Does Faith have an important role in the Labor Movement?
Issues: Income inequality, EFCA. Immigration Reform
The respondents are:
Frank Shansky, Business Manager Local 212 Milwaukee Area Technical College
Jim Lange, retired Steel Worker and labor activist
Dominique Paul Noth, served as senior editor for all feature coverage at the Milwaukee Journal after decades as its film and drama critic, then was appointed special assistant to the publisher and the company’s first online producer. For the past decade he was editor of the Milwaukee Labor Press and website, milwaukeelabor.org. He now writes as an independent journalist on culture and politics.
Joan Picard Bleidorn, retired Milwaukee Area Technical College Professor, Co-founder Local 212 part time professors unit, member of St. Benedict the Moor Roman Catholic Parish
August 26th Question:
What is the political-economic-moral strength of the Labor Movement at the present time?
I’ll let someone else answer the political and economic strength. But the moral strength of the labor movement is its ability to stand up to power, when very few others will. Labor encompasses the vast majority of society, if not in membership, then in principle.
The Labor movement is too weak these days to deal with the onslaught of the companies. That’s why I applaud the AFL-CIO for reaching out and trying to find new ways of doing things.
Ought to be stronger but is quite weak in public perception despite clear evidence of moral and economic importance. Some of the wound is inflicted by political excess particularly in Wisconsin and other ideologically right-driven states but some is self-inflicted from naval gazing over protecting its own members.
Now labor has got to go back to what caused it to grow and vitalize starting a century ago, bringing in workers of like concern whether they hold union cards or not, opening the doors, forming coalitions of like-minded whom, once the issues are explained, may well be a majority. But there also must be an awareness that too many families –
struggling economically and focused on their own children as traditional family units disintegrate geographically, as cultural, educational and social mores change – require new modes of communication and new tools of information to make them realize the importance of getting off their duffs.
Regarding the political strength of the labor movement at the present time, there is a need for a massive awaking to the importance increased political efforts to deal with the unmitigated attack on the rights of workers in this country. To begin with, the fact that more than 20 or more U.S. states are almost totally controlled by Republican governors, as well as control of the House and Senate, give the extreme right-wing of the Republican party cart blanch opportunities to crush all rights for workers. The right- wing strongly supports a ‘Righty to Work’ policy, which translates into, “if you don’t like what the job offers, too bad-leave…you are lucky to have a job at all even at slave wages, so don’t complain because we can have you replaced in a minute.” We must lay the foundations of justice for workers at the political level first, and make sure that we learn from the effective tactics of the far right. Those of us who believe in a strong unionized work-force , must make every effort to get our candidates in at first of all, the local level, and build a strong foundation from the ground up. From control and power at the local level, there must be a move upward to higher levels of government, until recapture of the House and Senate can happen as a matter of course. We also must make every effort to assure that MOVE TO AMEND the constitution to reverse the damage done by Citizens United gets on the ballot of local government all across the country. Our work is cut out for us, and it will take real determination to undo the damage created by the far right in this country. We must not fail to mention our rather ineffectual Democratic president who talks a good fight but seldom delivers.
Regarding the economic strengths of the labor movement at this time, we must put our money where our mouth is. Money is power, and consumers have great power, even if their resources are somewhat limited. We have to shop somewhere.
If we choose to buy Palermo’s pizza then we become part and party to injustice, as we do if we take advantage of buying cheap goods from the local mall. It is so easy to be sucked into the idea that it is better to have ten sweaters on the cheap, rather than one or two which cost you a fair price to cover the cost of just wages for the workers. There must be a concerted effort to maintain the unions, which represent the only course of action for justice in the work-place. Union dues are needed to provide union strength. The police made a mistake in thinking that Governor Walker cared about their interests when he spared their unions. After using this gullible group of middle-class cops, he is now in the process of attempting to curtail their union, if not wipe it out completely. Too soon we get old, and too late we get smart!
Regarding the moral strength of the labor movement at this time, individual members must take heart and realize that it is time to dig in our heels and work even harder for justice, in whatever way we can. Refusing to shop at Walmart is a start. Boycotting the many corporations that produce and sell G.M.O. (Genetically Modified Organism) products is a tactic available to everyone. One thing that is important is to realize that the labor movement must not be divided, and the far right loves to use a ‘divide and conquer’ policy to defeat its enemies. Workers must be organized and there is strength in numbers. There is a moral component to the labor movement, as each individual has the obligation to play a part. I recently watched a DVD entitled ‘I AM’, the story of wealthy and humorous film producer, Steven Shadyec, who was hospitalized with mental and physical injuries after a motorcycle accident. When he was released from the hospital, he took a look at his 17,000 square foot estate, with its two 7,000 foot mansions, and decided he was not happy. He took a trip around the world to interview wise people like the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Tutu, Noam Chomsky and others and asked them the questions: What is wrong with the world, and what can we do about it? He came home with the conclusions that what is wrong with the world is ‘I AM’ and what can we do about it.? ‘I CAN’ (and I must.) He came to the conclusion that we are not wired for continuous consumerism, but rather, we are hard wired for COMPASSION AND COMMUNITY. He changed his lifestyle and came to the belief that whatever little we can do to make this a better world, we must do. We must avoid the pathetic question: ‘Why doesn’t somebody do something?’ We are the somebody.