Things continue to erode for working Americans, and labor has been dealt set back after set back. Part of the problem is that labor's message, focus and ideals has been lost on working people. In some areas labor is divided and different groups are battling amongst each other. This cannot help the cause of working people. The following ideas are advanced as an effort to refocus labor's efforts on what is truly important, and to help develop a platform of common ground between various labor groups and affiliations. This has been written without the influence of any group and hopefully favors none in particular.
What are the sacred tenets of labor? Is there any common ground we can all cling to in an effort to redefine the movement for working people, regardless of their affiliation or lettered labor group? Can we build a platform that non-union employees will understand and seek to become involved with? If we can clarify the principles that was once was the strength of labor, and set ground rules for our differences, are there areas for us to work together? This is an attempt to create thought and discussion about the issues at the center of the workers movement, please take this in only that regard. The following is a very basic list of labor's essential missions, ideals and challenges.
1. Organize Always.
This is the first and most fundamental challenge all labor faces. Has there been a large-scale public national drive since the "Union Yes" campaigns in the late 1980's? Every possible effort should be invested in increasing labors overall numbers. This can be done with minimal competition between the different affiliations. If unions are not getting bigger they are losing the fight, period. The key to any union's effectiveness is the power of the membership. This power also comes solely from the number of membership willing to participate and act. One problem has been a lack of vision in regards to attracting new members. There has been little done to compel existing members to understand the need to become active and involved in the organizing front. The message to non-union employees has been muddled and muted. Some workers regard unions as just a source of additional problems, or just another bureaucratic evil to have to contend with. This view of labor must be replaced with the ideals of the workers movement that compels people to both join the fight and to fight to join us.
This simplest idea is often the most unobtainable ideal. Differences between groups must cease, especially publicly. Labor must coordinate its collective voice on as many relevant issues as possible. We must seek to be inclusive rather than exclusive. There may be tensions between various classifications at a certain employer. There may be issues between the local, the districts and national chapters or group affiliations. There may even be competing unions within the same classification or employee group. When these things happen the differences between us must never be what defines each of our movements. Bickering and open war among labor federations only suits the corporate agenda. If a membership group is unhappy with the union it currently has and chooses to seek another union, and this choice made by the workers, then we must honor it and move on. Competing labor organizations must not seek to influence membership within another group and active raiding of membership between competing unions must stop because it is counterproductive to the advancement of working people. There are enough non-union employees in every industry to organize; labor groups must never battle over each other's members. We must look to break down barriers that have traditionally divided us across labor groups, across companies and even across borders to find ways to have more of us standing together. There must always be support for membership on a picket line. Anytime a membership group is on strike we must all seek to find ways to support that group by whatever means we are able to.
3. Call to Activism and Charity.
Unions must function as a gateway to involvement, by offering support for groups that effort in charity or advancement of the human society, union halls can serve as rallying points for the collective good. We must offer additional outlets for activism to fellow causes whether directly related, indirectly related or completely unrelated to the labor organization. What good are cathedrals of labor if they stand empty every night except once or twice a month when there are meetings? Red cross training or donation drives, baseball award dinners or even scout meetings might be examples of this. The idea is to attract people into a union hall even if it is not for a union function. Labor must strive to be a pillar in the community, strive to help people in all aspects of life. The drive to help in charitable causes mirrors our own fight for the little guy, and it serves a greater good. It is important to develop relationships with people and groups in the community in good times, to help earn support from others in bad times.
4. Personal and Political Involvement.
Membership must commit to involvement. This is no longer a Partisan issue -- Democrat versus Republican equals unimportant. Issue by issue involvement with a concentrated focus on working class issues. Democrat or Republican we must make the advancement working class issues, values and ideals clear to our elected representatives. The idea is to expand the political muscle of labor issue-by-issue and state-by-state, holding elected officials who betray the interest of working people accountable for their actions. Achieving this will require members to be both informed and involved. Just paying your dues is simply not enough anymore. Complacency in the membership must be challenged, because any chance of the labor movement's success is dictated by the level of involvement of those that believe in the cause.
5. Universal Health Care.
All Americans should have access to affordable healthcare. Labor must be a leader in the battle for affordable healthcare for everyone. The discussion in this arena has been dominated by Wall Street brokerages, malpractice attorneys, corporate lawyers and insurance companies. This is why the situation has become such a problem. Labor must lobby for the American worker in this arena. The arguments in regard to healthcare and insurance reform must be taken on in manner that can look to involve non-union employees and non-labor groups. More and more working Americans are facing life with reduced or no healthcare coverage and this must change.
6. Defend Retirement Savings.
Demand stable retirement plans and pension reform. The lottery must never involve less risk than counting on your pension or your 401k; there is serious work to be done in this area. Whenever possible labor groups must seek to build alliances with groups involved in this fight. AARP and other advocacy groups could be natural allies in this arena. The idea that working people deserve a safe and fair retirement wage must be continually advanced. Our mission in this arena includes defending social security, pensions and increasing the standards of living for retired people.
7. Shareholder Activism.
This is about taking the battle from the break room to the boardroom. Labor must begin to flex its muscle in the boardrooms of America. Many membership groups either directly or indirectly own their company's stock in pensions, 401k's and other related programs. Employee owners and trustees of the members stock should be voting the conscience and interests of the working shareholders. Labor groups should make available ideas and teach its members about shareholder activism to encourage shareholder motions in an effort to promote changes and reform in the operation of the company. There are several proposal ideas that can positively affect the governance of a company and that are in the interests of our membership, examples include limiting golden parachutes and option grants to executives. Even if we fail to win the vote on a shareholder proposal, the media just might cover our efforts and draw attention to the issues of corporate governance we wish to change. While many shareholder activists and even a few union groups have begun to advance this idea in the post Enron economy, this concept is still in its infancy.
8. Monitoring corporate responsibility, governance and fraud.
Speaking out on corporate governance out is critical to the survival of labor as well. Collectively we must be vigilant and on alert for the next potential large corporate catastrophe like Enron and also speak out on smaller indiscretions like abuses by the company's board, its officers and its executives. There have been glaring examples of corporate and executive malfeasance in the meltdown of several large corporations it is our duty to insure that those who violate their fiduciary responsibilities are held accountable. We must speak out loudly against those who are doing a poor job of running their corporations. When management is doing a poor job it is our membership that will be laid-off or have to take concessions. No one knows the job better than those of us who are actually doing the work. We cannot expect others to speak out on these issues for us.
9. Standing for Honor and Reform
Unions must stand committed to honorable practices and reforming within their own organizations. Ethics may be compromised in the "Boardrooms of America" they must never be by the unions. Inclusion and involvement of the membership in key decisions must always be the goal. Unions by nature are democratic organizations and this principle must never be compromised. Accountability and responsibility for the union's recourses must be clear to the membership and is a trust that cannot be violated. How we account for the spending of our member's union dues and utilize our assets must be clear to all and serve the interests of the members. We must never think we are not accountable to those we serve.
10. Striving for Performance and Safety.
Union must never forget they are under consent challenge to be better than other workers in their industry and better than workers from around the world. The stereotype of the lazy union member perpetually on break must be obliterated from the public's mind. Pride in our work is essential if we are to survive. Union employees must set the highest standard in every industry we are employed. Unions must also be leaders in advancing the ideas of safe workplaces. We can create a dialogue between workers and employers to ensure worker safety. It is in the interest of both the corporations and the membership to strive for the safest possible workplaces. No one knows our workplace better than us. We cannot count on anyone to speak on our behalf in the interest of our safety.
Of course, these ideas are just principles of idealism and they are not absolutes. The ideas listed have only scratched the surface on each issue; of course every concept will have to be developed further. There are certain principles that might be added, changed or removed to better suit each circumstance, these ideas are offered to begin the discussion on refocusing the principles of labor. What are the true commandments of labor? Every employee, union member and organization must decide what core principles will guide their own involvement. The idea here is to develop a platform that can clearly be defined by everyone both inside and outside of the labor movement. Our fight is an honorable one. We can turn the tide against the workers movement by focusing on our common goals and reasserting our principles to the public, to our members, and to our leaders.
If I am wrong on this tell me why, or send your comments to: