Work and its Discontents

While reading the underlying “debate” between various trade-union allies of mine, I sense a tension that isn’t being sufficiently addressed. It’s a FACT that trade unions were formed to further the interests of their members, including their varied interests. Even the old craftsman’s unions weren’t only interested in whether they made enough money but they also wanted to create a “profession” which produced good work. They didn’t want their high quality work to be replaced by cheaper and shoddier products. Though those two aims are different, they are not totally unrelated.

It’s wrong to allow working conditions that demean the human beings who work there; it’s wrong to  see them as objects to be moved around rather than intelligent humans with aims of their own. It’s wrong for some to take unfair advantage of those whose choices in life are more limited. In a democracy, it’s wrong for the majority of people to have working lives that do not allow them to take advantage of their democratic privileges. Workers who have insufficient leisure time cannot participate as well as those who have such time. And in the absence of time, they do not have the “lobbying” power that others may. The strength of one is limited. And their wages are insufficient to collectively match the power of the coordinated lobbying of far richer collectivities (e.g. the Chamber of Commerce). Consequently, the closer they are to living along the edge of poverty, the more frequently they lack pensions and sick leave, and on and on, the less likely they are to be brave, to take on tasks that require both time and risks to themselves or their families. And on and on.

That’s why one form or another of collective action by working people has had a long history–even slaves acted together when times were tough enough, or hope seemed nearer. We live in such times. We need unions for both purposes not only in schools but in every sphere of working life. The CTU strike a few weeks ago was a ringing reminder of why it’s an idea that will probably never die.  If you think I’m wrong, argue with me.

p.s. It’s interesting that it was literally only during the Cold War that Big Business saw value in labor unions and even went so far as to claim that one definition of democracy (as opposed to Communism) was the existence of free trade unions.

One Response

  1. ” It’s interesting that it was literally only during the Cold War that Big Business saw value in labor unions and even went so far as to claim that one definition of democracy (as opposed to Communism) was the existence of free trade unions.”

    I think there are a few moguls out there who could stand to review their history. Thank you for the insights.

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