Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

May 1st – This Year More Than Ever

The workers fare better in times of economic growth and are most vulnerable during a recession. This is probably not anything new to us. Short-sighted business executives, when faced with a down-turn in the market immediately go for cost-cutting measures and in any organization, the biggest line item is labor.

This has not been a great year for the trade union movement. The assault by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) – I can’t think of another name for it – is stunning.What is even more difficult to understand is that many of these workers actually voted him into power. The US has never polarized along class lines as we have seen in the UK and other European countries. 

But then American politicians (and their aides of course) understand so well how to manipulate the media (which is only worried about ratings not content) and to avoid discussing the major issues. How were Republicans, just months after losing the Presidential election, able to get away with criticizing Obama for the ‘economic situation’?

So for those of you who wonder, here are 10 reasons why we need Trade Unions, courtesy of Union Solidarity:


(there are more than 10 – just ask a union member)

1. People who belong to unions have better wages and conditions than non-union members: – Did you know that union members on average earn 15% more than non-union members!

2. Unionised workplaces have better health and safety conditions and are more likely to elect representatives who are then legally entitled to monitor health and safety at work.

3. Unions have a long and proud history of defending the rights of working women, part timers and casuals. It is much more difficult for employers to discriminate against women union members who are aware of their rights. Anti-discrimination laws, paid maternity leave and family leave was won by unions who continue to fight for improved conditions for part time and casual workers.

4. Overtime rates, annual leave, rostered days off, redundancy agreements, long service leave payments – these are all conditions fought for by unions. Employers do not just hand out entitlements.

5. Unions collectively and individually support education and training for employees and lobby for on-the-job training for members. The benefits flow onto everyone.

6. The Union movement has successfully lobbied state and federal governments for better laws to protect low paid workers such as outworkers.

7. People who are active in their unions learn heaps about their working environment and how it can be improved – they can help fellow workers and have fun at the same time.

8. In tough economic times, employers will try to cut jobs and increase productivity – it is unions who make sure that big companies don’t put profit before people.

9. Unions help to break down barriers in workplaces – they unite workers and create a community so workers don’t feel isolated and fearful of employers.

10. Unions are involved in important social and community issues. The environment, women’s movement, Aboriginal reconciliation, rebuilding East Timor and other overseas aid and rights for refugees are just some of the social justice issues unions become involved with.

I would like to add one more that I saw on a car bumper sticker:

Actually the one I saw said: God gave us the Sabbath, but the unions gave us the weekend!

Happy May 1st.


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

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2 thoughts on “May 1st – This Year More Than Ever

  1. I agree. When I was a young child, my father had low paying jobs with no financial security until he joined a union with the help of a friend. After that, he earned better money and our family lifestyle improved.

    Without the health care the union negotiated both my mother and I probably would have died since we wouldn’t have had the money when we both faced serious health challenges.

    Then when I was 35, I became a public school teacher in California and joined CTA/NEA. Many in the US aren’t aware of how political the environment in the public schools is. Since I refused to go along with the self-esteem revolution in parenting and continued to teach my students expecting them to work and learn instead of me dummying down the curriculum in my class while inflating grades, I came under attack from parents and administrators catering to the “Political Correctness” of the self-esteem movement.

    The goal was for as many students as possible to feel successful without earning that success and to have more free time to have fun instead of having to go home and actually study.

    If it weren’t for CTA/NEA, I’m sure I would have been fired from my job for daring to challenge my students to work hard and learn instead of feel good for earning high grades while not working since that was the result of the self-esteem movement in parenting.

    We often hear from politicians and the media of bad teachers not doing their job but we never hear of the teachers that refused to lower their standards, inflate grades and continued to challenge their students to work and learn the old-fashioned way by reading, doing class work, homework and studying for tests instead of by just showing up and expecting to earn an A for that.

    What angers me are politicians, lousy parents and the media blaming the results of the parenting self-esteem movement on the teachers’ unions. I believe this is a PR campaign to destroy the power of the CTA/NEA so special interests with political agendas such as the neo-conservatism that brought us the Iraq War and nation building along with the 2008 global financial crises along with the Tea Party People so these special interest groups can take over the schools and brainwash the youth to vote one-way—the way they want.

    Sorry, I got off topic. Thanks to the CTA/NEA teacher’s union, I kept my job as a teacher for thirty years and continued to challenge my students to the last day. I guess reading your post about unions pushed one of my anger buttons.

  2. Thanks, Lloyd. I have planned a post about the teachers. I have been shocked at the public assault on them while those top bankers and business managers that we bailed out are receiving obscene ‘bonuses’.

    Alon Shalev

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