by Susan Rosenthal
(Updated at: Class-Divided Unions)
Who needs a union? You do!
Unionized workers are more likely to have medical coverage, pension benefits, and protection from sexual harassment and wrongful dismissal. Unions raise living standards. Areas with more unions offer higher wages, higher life expectancy, lower infant mortality, better education, and less poverty.
American unions were so strong in the 1930s that Washington helped employers to crush them. By 2005, the percentage of private-sector workers in unions had dropped to less than eight percent, the lowest rate in more than a century. The remaining unions have been transformed from fighting organizations controlled by workers to bureaucratic organizations dominated by middle-class professionals.
Today’s unions are cross-class organizations, that is, they are working-class organizations of self-defense and part of the management system of capitalism. While most ordinary union members are working-class (the rank and file), most union officials are middle-class professionals who help employers to manage the workforce.
Union bureaucrats and company bosses have the same goal — to keep the company in business. And that means keeping it competitive.
The AFL-CIO boasts that "Unions Are Good for Productivity." However, productivity can increase only by making people work harder for less.
Instead of opposing rising exploitation, union bureaucrats lower their members’ expectations of what can be achieved. At times, union officials will talk tough and even lead struggles for workers' rights. However, they inevitably sell out because they are afraid to unleash the power of the rank and file. When workers organize wild-cat strikes, union officials join with employers and governments to push them back to work.
Just as union bureaucrats partner with bosses to manage the workplace, America’s top union bureaucrats partner with the American State to manage the world.
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told one top labor executive meeting, "When you undertook your lives as labor leaders…becoming a part of the U.S. Government may have not have been something that you intended…but I do think it has been a very important partnership. I think that is the best way to describe it."
Without the awareness or consent of their members, AFL-CIO executives have helped Washington overthrow democratically-elected governments, prop up anti-union dictators, and support right-wing unions against progressive governments.
Many people say that unions are corrupt and useless and not worth defending. This is a big mistake. Employers, politicians, and the media continue to attack unions because even weak and corrupt unions prevent bosses from having complete control over the workplace.
Workers ARE the union. To build strong unions we must take collective control of them and join together to fight for all workers’ rights.
For more on this subject see POWER and Powerlessness, Chapter 13, "Decide Which Side You’re On." Available at www.powerandpowerlessness.com