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Est. April 5, 2002
May 23, 2019 - Issue 790

Worker Groups Not
Affiliated With Unions
Serve Constituents,
But Are They A Force?


"Who perpetrated this war on workers? 
There's long list, but mostly it has been the rich,
Corporate America, right-wing think tanks
newspapers, television programming and
commercials, whole fields of academic studies
that purport to be scholarly."

They do good work. Some of them do great work. They have gained justice and decent pay for most of their constituents, but do they point the way to raise up all American workers?

We're talking about the proliferation of worker-advocacy groups in specific industries or areas of work across the nation and they have been doing a very good job, while pointing out that they are not unions, they do not affiliate with unions or the labor movement, and they are getting along just fine without what they consider the taint of unionization and all the negativity that has surrounded unions.

It's true that unions have seen their share of corruption, but that corruption pales in comparison with the corruption of Corporate America and American politics, in general. Why then, do workers and leaders of these non-union worker organizations express such antipathy toward the union movement?

The answer: Propaganda and the war on workers masquerading as a war on union “bosses” and corruption. Propaganda works and, since the end of World War II, there has been a war on workers. There has been a war on every attempt by workers and their unions to provide decent pay and benefits, working conditions and, especially, to provide safe and healthy workplaces. Why? Because every single thing that unions strive for will cost the company money that CEOs want to see in the pockets of their executives and shareholders, rather than in the pockets of workers to feed, clothe, and house their families. As Warren Buffet, the billionaire, said, “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

He did not appear to be speaking in a gloating way, when he made the observation about class war over the past 20 years, he was merely pointing out the reality. In that lack of gloating, he set himself apart from the avarice of most of his counterparts, who have indulged themselves in the process of defeating the aspirations of all American workers. Nevertheless, the result is the same, whether it's Buffett speaking or a CEO or right-wing politicians, most of whom are contemptuous of workers and hold their unions in even less esteem. What he failed to mention is the broad attack on workers over many more than just two decades.

Who perpetrated this war on workers? There's long list, but mostly it has been the rich, Corporate America, right-wing think tanks, newspapers, television programming and commercials, whole fields of academic studies that purport to be scholarly. In the case of colleges and universities, it is the very rich who buy chairs or whole departments and expect to see their views of the economy and their views of politics and society taught to young minds who are just forming their own views of the world. The power of their money is expressed in this manner and any alternate view of the world is usually not tolerated and usually ends up in expulsion of the teacher or academic punishment of some kind, such as denial of tenure or, in the case of adjuncts, fewer classes or no classes at all.

Most newspapers and magazines are owned by Buffett's class, most television and other means of communication are owned by the same class. What would one expect from the content of their “news,” but that of condemnation of anything that would reduce profits and reduction of the money that flows into their personal purses? Thus, the propaganda emanates from nearly every aspect of life in the U.S., and there is no escape. It doesn't even appear to be propaganda, and that's the genius of it.

Workers and people, in general, are schooled in the way of the corporation, not in the way of independent thinking, logic, philosophy, psycology, history, civics, or any course of study that would give the lie to the status quo, in which only a few, the 1 percent, are in charge of all aspects of life and that includes the solidarity of workers acting in solidarity as a united front. In other words, in unions. In unions, there is the possibility of real democracy and it's good training for citizenship. If there is no democracy and freedom in the workplace, there is no democracy in the nation-at-large.

The question is: How do workers ever equal the power of the corporations, the right-wing politicians (of the major parties), and the propaganda against them? They form a movement, a broad-based, all-inclusive movement that expresses their needs and desire for a true democracy. There was such a time, when that nearly came to fruition. It was after World War II, when union organizing was building toward its peak, through the early 1950s. But the success of unions in organizing unorganized workers and their lifting millions of workers into the middle class was too much for the powers-that-be to suffer, since all of that rising standard of living was taking money directly out of the coffers of corporations of every size and out of the pockets of corporate executives and shareholders. The class war against workers was reignited and the nation has seen the diminution of organized labor since then.

In the past couple of decades, workers have begun to arise against the depredations of their employers, many of which are giant corporations. They have marched, picketed, and held rallies for better pay and working conditions, and for benefits that others have enjoyed for a time in the past. There have been sustained actions against WalMart, against Amazon, actions in the hotel and restaurant industries, in the West Coast ports, on farms, and in sweat-shops. The organizations that have arisen from bad working conditions have done good work, some have done great work while underfunded.

And the work they have done has resulted in some new laws and regulations that protect workers and have raised wages a little, even though most are far from the $15 an hour minimum wage millions are seeking. Much of the work of the groups unaffiliated with unions or the union movement is at the local level and the results are pretty much local. A ray of hope, though, is that behind some of these efforts are unions, providing advice and help in organizing, some legal help. WalMart workers and their efforts to raise their pay and improve working conditions comes readily to mind. Unions back them. There is organizing in hotels and restaurants and unions have provided support, but not always at the front of the line.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) describes itself as “a worker-based human rights organization internationally recognized for its achievements in the fields of social responsibility, human trafficking, and gender-based violence at work.” It has been built on a foundation of support for the rights of farmworkers and the improvement of their lives. The CIW does work similar to unions, but it doesn't apparently identify as one.

Another such group is the Chinese Staff and Workers Association, which has fought for the rights of workers in New York City, mostly Chinese workers in the food and garment industries, but including other minorities. Wing Lam, founder and still chief of the association, has worked to bring justice for the workers in those worksites in the city for decades. But, in a phone conversation nearly three decades ago, he said he was not interested in working with unions and indicated that the association would continue as it started. And, it's still going, despite long hours, modest pay, and death threats.

There are many such organizations in the U.S. and they are doing what unions have done in the past, and successfully, but they hesitate to join a union and the union movement. They have their reasons, but workers in general will not have the power they need to match the awesome power of money and wealth and the control of politics and elections that are wielded by the 1 percent. Only a powerful union movement can do that. The struggle is on and, when all of the organizations realize that they must band together to succeed for all workers, the workers' world will change. Solidarity is the answer. Columnist, John Funiciello, is a former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who lives in the Mohawk Valley of 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. Contact Mr. Funiciello and BC.




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Executive Editor:
David A. Love, JD
Managing Editor:
Nancy Littlefield, MBA
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