Sunday, July 10, 2011
The video above is from a campaign to rebuild American labour unions. It’s meant to show a few of the things that all American workers enjoy because of unions. It’s a hard sell, given the relentless rightwing propaganda that’s convinced even those who would most benefit from being members of a union that instead they should be staunch opponents.
In a way, I sympathise with the anti-union victims of rightwing propaganda, because I once bought it, too. When I was in university, back when I was a Republican, I argued before my speech class that youth and young adults should be exempt from having to join a union. A good chunk of my argument came directly from the Republican Party talking points of the day because I truly believed them.
Apparently, I hadn’t learned from my own past.
My first job, a few years earlier, when I was still in high school, was highly exploitive. We were paid less than minimum wage, we worked long hours with short breaks and were often “asked” to work overtime or on our days off. We all knew it wasn’t possible to decline, or our hours would be cut back drastically. A union could’ve helped fight for a better deal, but low-wage service employees weren’t a priority for unions back then and, in any case, I was that anti-union Republican, so I just endured it all, promising myself that if I ever had authority over someone else, I’d never treat them as I’d been treated.
Even when I left the Republican Party and eventually became a Democrat, I still didn’t automatically become pro-union. I still bought the propaganda that all American unions were big, bloated operations of organised crime. I had no personal experience of that, of course, but that’s what I’d been told all my life.
Years later, here in New Zealand, I joined a union to help protect me as the big company I was working for was undergoing “restructuring”. The company was eventually sold to Australians, and I eventually left the company and the union. But knowing they were there, ready to fight on our side, was a comfort in what was a very stressful time. My respect for the idea of organised labour grew dramatically as a result.
I’m now an ardent supporter of US labour unions as the only credible force that can stand up to the plutocrats and corporate elites. Here in New Zealand, unions are less important than in the US, though I still support them. Unions in New Zealand still have a role to play to ensure a more level playing field in negotiations between businesses and workers. I think there’s more for them to do for all of us.