Wednesday, September 12, 2007

There Is Power In A Union

Conventional wisdom seems to hold that the labor movement is a relic of a bygone era, outmoded in the information age. A consumerist society doesn't have a lot of patience for collectivist ideals. Everyone seems to believe that selfishness and media conditioning has wrought an unbridled capitalist culture. No one expects workers, hell, even citizens, to act in their own political and economic best interests any more. Thankfully, reports of the union's demise has been somewhat overstated.

This week clerical, health care and technical workers at the University of Minnesota are on strike for better wages. My bus route takes me through the university, so I have seen many groups of picketers every day this week. Their morale is strong, and is buoyed by an obvious source, though unexpected to me: the bus drivers themselves. Every driver of every bus I have ridden has honked and called out and cheered, and the demonstrators have run to the drivers' windows to chat and distribute buttons. I can't tell you how heartening it was to witness this solidarity between people. It felt good to be alive, if only for a moment.

I leave you with Billy Bragg's opus...

There is power in a factory, power in the land
Power in the hand of the worker
But it all amounts to nothing if together we don't stand
There is power in a Union

Now the lessons of the past were all learned with workers blood
The mistakes of the bosses we must pay for
From the cities and the farmlands to trenches full of mud
War has always been the bosses way, sir

The Union forever, defending our rights
Down with the blackleg, all workers unite
With our brothers and our sisters from many far-off lands
There is power in a Union

Now I long for the morning that they realise
Brutality and unjust laws cannot defeat us
But who'll defend the workers who cannot organise
When the bosses send their lackeys out to cheat us?

Money speaks for money, the Devil for his own
Who comes to speak for the skin and the bone?
What a comfort for the widow, a light to the child
There is power in a Union

The Union forever,defending our rights
Down with the blackleg, all workers unite
With our brothers and our sisters together we will stand
There is power in a Union


J G-W said...

That's a great song...

I think it's human nature to seek to just get by. We tend to fight only when we're backed into a corner. We unite only in the face of some overwhelming evil. Maybe that's why unions were strongest in the period between 1870 and 1930, when conditions faced by workers were much more obviously deplorable.

They're deplorable today, but the relative wealth of our society as a whole makes it seem less pressing. But we're starting to get squished. I'm feeling it. Are you feeling it? Year after year, health care, utilities, food, all getting more expensive, while our little pittance raises don't catch up.

Maybe we'll catch the union spirit soon enough.

DAV said...

I was up there on Monday for the Foreign Service written Exam, and I talked to some protesters afterwards. They have soem pretty valid points, and I hope they get their raise.

Knight of Nothing said...

It is a great song! I actually looked around for an online version of it, because the way he renders it with his voice and guitar is quite powerful.

I suppose it is quite correct to cite the history that you do. And I must agree - the wealth of our society does soften the impact of the worst abuses of a capitalist society.

Am I feeling it? I am feeling the all of the anxieties of the emerging globalization. But it would be a lie to say that I'm really "feeling it" in the way that, say, the U of MN workers are. I'm very well paid for what I do, owing to the relative scarcity of people in my industry. But with globalization, all bets are off. Who knows what is next?

Knight of Nothing said...

Hi DAV - hope you did well on your exam. And I hope the University meets the Union's demands as well!

Tequila Mockingbird said...

i think everyone is concerned about the increasing globalization. it is unfortunate that most of the movers and shakers feel that because working conditions are no longer as deplorable like they were in the industrial period, we should be satisfied. granted children are no longer forcefully employed, there arent 16 hr work days, and places are properly ventilated, but that doesn not mean there is any less of a neccessity for workers unions.