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21st Century Labor Unions: Educate to Activate Your Members
By: Mac-Z Zurawski
Franklin D. Roosevelt’s pro-labor legislation is still helping Americans today. I just waited an hour and 45 minutes to vote in my union election. I struck up a conversation with a fellow member while in line that involved everything from NY Senator Robert F. Wagner to our present contract. The Labor Movement has witnessed a drastic change in union numbers and members since the early 1980’s . Our numbers have dwindled along with American living conditions. I don’t want this to be another “rich getting richer” story but we know the obvious.
My article focus is upon union member education. How do we educate our members? Most of the time we aren’t educated on the logistics or presence of unions outside of our locals. That is where the war against unions has been waged and won. My main suggestions to support union strength are expanding on community unionism and grassroots activism through adult centered educational courses.
Educating the Masses
As unions continue to struggle in 21st Century America so do their members. It’s beyond concessions and layoffs. I believe members suffer due to a lack of knowledge on the Labor Movement and their place within it. I have heard many a member say “my union doesn’t help me”. They don’t understand the difference between business and community unionism. A business union , like my own, focuses upon wages, seniority, job expansion and steady employment. They participate in attending grievance and disciplinary meetings to help members keep their jobs and work place reputations. Business unions constantly research and prepare proposals for corporations, private businesses and governments on the positive elements of unions. These are then turned into proposals to hire more union members and keep the ones already employed. Then, there are contract creation and negotiations. A union slate of 10 people representing 1,800 or more couldn’t possibly add the elements of community unionism. But expanding slates to incorporate these elements is a great idea. A few more people on a slate could handle human resource or employment issues, EEO issues and educational issues. These delegates could connect to other unions and share resources to create better representation for their members. A small increase in wages to cover these vital resources creates stronger support for the many issues union members are increasingly dealing with at work. The delegates to the councils and auditors could even take on larger roles to focus upon some of these issues if hiring more representatives is not an option. These new representatives or current representatives could have monthly seminars on filling out promotion applications, EEO regulations, harassment regulations, filing grievances , filing other complaints, and classes on the Labor Movement in general. Knowledge is power. Share some and it’s proven that success is greater for the whole group.
We have been inundated with this and similar themes as we transition into a healthier America. From First Lady Michelle Obama to cartoon networks, we are told that staying active is the best way to be healthy and strong. The same goes for political activity. The most important element in creating stronger unions is more aggressive grassroots activism. A political army of 11 million members sends a strong message to politicians, corporations and government. Each and every union, from locals to nationals, should be knocking on their members doors to politic. A union should have union member outings every month, petition drives, canvassing days (a possibility is to have canvassing days just on the benefits of unions for area residents-we are a great economic presence), voter registration drives for members, GOTV education courses, courses on politicking through Social Media and much more. The sky’s the limit in activism. Union connection days to get to know other unions and their members. Creating a stronger, more educated collective is a key ingredient to success. President Obama’s campaigns are prime examples of grassroots activism.
Maybe I’m just reiterating many of my fellow member’s grievances and ideas but it’s worth it. The Chicago Teachers Union has shown their strength by using many of the stated ideas. They continue their struggle even as schools are shuttered. Chicago unions need to connect and activate their power switch. We the members are that switch.
Please send comments, ideas and suggestions for this story, my blog and unions.
Mac-Z Zurawski is an adult educator in Political Science (M.A. and B.A.), sociology and justice studies. Her active goals are to bridge the gap between dreams and reality for her students, neighbors and nation through education. Her extensive activism, education and more articles can be viewed at http://maceducator.edublogs.org/ , http://maczzurawski.tumblr.com/, LinkedIn profile at www.linkedin.com/in/maczzurawski/, http://www.ednewsdaily.com/index.php?s=mac-z+zurawski and at https://twitter.com/MacZZurawski. She is available for educational endeavors including adult education courses, seminars, consulting and curriculum development. Please contact her on any of the above sites.