a move that’s in the finest tradition of worker solidarity, some
900 members of Unite Here Local 1 demonstrated last week outside
Chicago’s Park Hyatt Hotel
in support of 98 workers who were fired recently from three Boston-area
Hyatt Hotels so they could be replaced by lower-wage workers.
were some 200 arrests of demonstrators, who had a sit-down in an
intersection to show support for their own negotiators in contract
talks with downtown hotels, along with support for the fired workers
it’s true that the demonstrators were there for their own and other
workers’ interests in Chicago, their expressions of support at the Hyatt property on behalf
of workers halfway across the country should be repeated all over
if there is to be true solidarity among unions and all workers.
The Chicago workers didn’t need to know the names of the Boston workers, just that they were in trouble
and needed support.
were times in American labor history when such solidarity was not
so much the exception, but it was more or less the rule. “An injury
to one is an injury to all” was the cry in earlier days for workers,
especially industrial workers, whose unions accepted members from
every job in a plant or work location.
kind of solidarity was common among rank-and-file workers in the
more militant unions and those workers who wanted to join such unions.
Even in the America of the “rugged individual,” workers seemed
to instinctively support one another, especially if they were in
the same city, but also far afield, particularly workers in the
wave of strikes that swept the country in the mid-1940s and so alarmed
the right wing politicians and big business interests was the result
of a capping of union activity during World War II. The end of the
war was like a cork popping, such was the pressure to regain some
of the losses incurred in living standards during the suppression
of wages and benefits during the long years of the war.
may have been the time of the greatest number of strikes - considering
the number of workers in the country - in the history of this country.
settlements of the strikes with wage gains, some job security, benefits,
and pensions (such as they were) were achieved at a cost.
workers took concerted action - acting in concert - they were seen
as some kind of alien force in the bosom of American apple pie:
socialist, at the least, communist at worst. The Red Scare and the
witch hunts came in the late 1940s and 1950s. The country’s rulers
couldn’t be too fastidious in cleaning their house of the rabble
that was clambering for some of the fruits of the post-war production.
And there was plenty of fruit - money - for several decades, such
that union contracts were negotiated time after time without a thought
that the good times might come to an end.
solidarity among workers that marked earlier times didn’t seem to
be necessary, since there was so much money even the captains of
Corporate America were willing to share some of it with their workers.
a few times in the history of America’s
labor movement, workers have been lulled into complacency by a “good”
period. Of course, they never were good for all workers, especially
those who were without the protection of a union and a contract.
Solidarity among workers only went so far, and many suffered overt
workers (the near-professionals among workers) didn’t really want
industrial workers (generally all of the rest) among their ranks.
And the vast numbers of “unskilled” workers were standing alone.
Among them in the old days were farm workers, domestic workers,
waitresses and then, in more recent years, retail workers, electronic
and “information industry” workers, and those who work for hotels,
and other “hospitality industry” workers at the Hyatt and other
lack of solidarity among workers has never been more evident than
in the modern era, the 21st Century. There are young workers, many
of them college-educated, who have an idea what’s happened to the
American economy and they know that they are taking a gamble by
not paying out of pocket for health insurance. One sickness or injury
will put them in debt forever or in bankruptcy (if the previous
Bush Administration had not make it very difficult for individuals
to declare bankruptcy, even as it made it as easy as ever for corporations
to do so). These
are the people who are generally in support of health care reform,
one of the most contentious of worker issues in the new century,
because it affects so many and because the lack of access to health
care kills tens of thousands every year in the U.S.
there are workers who desperately need health care - not to mention
good jobs and housing - yet they have been convinced that doing
without is the best way to go. They’ve been convinced that any changes
in the delivery of health care borders on…socialism! Although they
don’t really know what the word means, they are against it, and
if their “betters” - such as the bloviators on AM radio or cable
television - tell them so, that’s all they need to know.
things can happen in this manner because, in general, the American
worker is devoid of any idea of his or her history. It’s
a classic case of not knowing where to go, because you don’t know
where you came from, let alone where you are now.
there’s an answer to this monumental problem, it’s education. Workers
and Americans, in general, need to know their own history. The Robber
Barons of the 19th Century were not the friends of labor and the
CEOs of Corporate America have never given a thought to the effects
of their actions on their workers or on the nation.
a lot of catching-up to do. It seems that, at first and at the least,
the unions need to set up workers schools, where they can learn
the history of their country in the context of their own history
and the seeming eternal struggle of ordinary people to survive -
to house, clothe, education, feed their families, and see to their
good health - while still having the time to spend with their children.
Three or four full-time jobs in one family was a thing of the 19th
Century, not the 21st. Yet, we seem to be settling in to that kind
of social and economic structure, once again.
prime reason for that is that the working class doesn’t see itself
as a working class and doesn’t engage in solidarity with their fellow
workers. That needs to change and the unions should show some leadership.
institution of organized labor itself needs to show solidarity -
for example, first resolving the split between the AFL-CIO and Change
to Win - then they need to get to work to teach all workers about
their history and the bloody struggles for a decent living standard.
The unions are the ones and the only ones who can do it, if they
have the will to fight that battle, for their efforts will be opposed
by some of the most powerful political and economic powers on earth.
BlackCommentator.com Columnist, John Funiciello, is a labor organizer and former union organizer.
His union work started when he became a local president of The Newspaper
Guild in the early 1970s. He was a reporter for 14 years for newspapers
in New York State.
In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they
struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory
food producers and land developers. Click here
to contact Mr. Funiciello.
Any BlackCommentator.com article may
be re-printed so long as it is re-printed in its entirety and full
credit given to the author and www.BlackCommentator.com. If the
re-print is on the Internet we additionally request a link back
to the original piece on our Website.
Your comments are always welcome.
eMail re-print notice
If you send us an eMail message
we may publish all or part of it, unless you tell us it
is not for publication. You may also request that we withhold
Thank you very much for your readership.
Your comments are always welcome.
1 , 2009
published every Thursday
Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Est. April 5, 2002
Printer Friendly Version
in resizeable plain
text format or pdf