[I want to start a pro union affinity group, so we can discuss issues relating to union outreach, and proposals to the outreach and actions committees; and to represent the interests of pro union people at the GA. If you've heard some of the anti union talk, please hear me out before making your decision. Please contact me, and let me know who you are, as I'd like to start a discussion on this at CH, before submitting a formal proposal before the GA.]
Observing the GA tonight, I was disturbed by what I saw. Ground was ceded to literally half a dozen people on a proposition that otherwise had consensus, that had already been voted on and approved days ago (with hard blocks withdrawn privately), and on a topic that had never been a point of contention before in OLA, or in the OWS movement which we're ostensibly supporting.
I have seen bewilderment in many faces (and outrage probably wrenched mine) as "union" suddenly became a dirty word.
Though I can't stay at the occupation 100% of the time, I've been there frequently (camping out when I can) since day one; enough to recall the excitement everyone displayed at the news of the teachers union or the transit union supporting us; how the nurses union demonstrated with us, and how many marched without hesitation alongside the teachers.
The proposal in question was whether to march in support of Hotel Bel-Air workers that'd been laid off. Specifically, whether to support their union march. Again, since this has been done before, here and at OWS, I don't understand the sudden controversy. What happened at the GA shamed me, and it invoked the first tangible doubt I had in the potential of this movement. I still believe in the abilities and commitment of the people involved, but they made a concession I don't believe they had just cause to make, and I don't feel we at the assembly were given much choice but to follow the facilitators' adjustment to the proposition, or reject the thing and go into another round of deliberations, only to see it tabled again.
I speak of the decision to alter the language to exclude "union." Then "worker" was no longer acceptable, and it became "person" or "human" or some such bullshit. How about mammal? Vertebrate? Carbon-based life form? Superficially, it seems an argument of petty semantics, but it isn't: the GA was railroaded by a small and disproportionately vocal and domineering minority into abandoning support for the unions, in favor of some vague entity that isn't a union member, and isn't even a worker. What are we eve supporting them in anymore if we don't give a shit about the one piece of leverage they have?
Concerns have been raised about co-opting, that unions contribute to Democrats, etc. Think -- consider the alternative. The Democrats had, historically, been supportive of labor. Even if the Democrats have drifted further right and corporatist, it remains that the big corporations generally throw heaps of cash at the Republicans, fiscal libertarians, and other neoconservative groups. In a two party system there is little choice; while it might be futile for unions to seek balance through their more meager donations to a party as sold out as the Dems, it's hard to fault them for making do.
People have said unions are corrupt. Anything can be corrupt, but again, consider the alternative. Workers without any organized representation to leverage the collective will of the employees against their employers get exploited. They lose their benefits, their wages shrink, job security vanish, they work longer hours, and in worse conditions. The work situation has degenerated in parallel with the loss of unions, following the chilling effect of Reagan's firing of the air traffic controllers. The alternative to unions: relying on the kindness of corporations.
You have to read between the lines. When someone criticizes something, what exactly are they advocating ("End the Fed")? When they want to destroy something, what will rush in to fill the void?
Continuing with a previous post of mine:
As I've said in my USPS thread, if we ignore unions but somehow expect to fight for working people, we're parking an ambulance at the bottom of a cliff.
Unions aren't exclusively a liberal domain, in spite of what the media says. They are working people of differing social views utilizing the last, and dwindling, mechanism for balancing power with their employers; ignore them, let them die off, and we're stuck having to rebuild something similar with no existing examples and zero foothold.
What's important to emphasize here is that people in unions will differ more on social issues than fiscal ones. The very nature of a union suggests acknowledging the adversarial stalemate that prevents corporations from doing... well, exactly what we see today: exploiting the living shit out of their employees.
Look at our camp and tell me social conservatives will feel at home there. All people are welcome, but not everyone will feel so, because some will be prejudiced -- be it against ethnicities, nationalities, sexual orientations, lifestyles, etc. There are also tons of mainstream people, because the goals, thought varied, are obvious in their general direction. While I hope the majority, regardless of social stances, will see the pragmatism in fighting for economic issues, the fact remains there will always be some segment of the population, middle class, underclass or otherwise, that will disagree even on economic terms (such as those who go out of their way to defend billionaires, believing their money signals their merit, and that we should all just live with it, and aspire to magically defy probability and "work hard" to become rich ourselves, even if the circumstances of the economy are demonstrably stacked against the likelihood).
We should emphasize independence from specific unions, and be wary of those with histories of corruption, but we represent working class people, and so do unions. Unions work, and they've accomplished goals similar to many of ours: better pay, job security, safer conditions, shorter hours, benefits, etc.
If we remain paralyzed by a fear that the media will demonize any trace of identity within the movement, we prolong the likelihood of being co-opted by another group; especially one backed by money and mainstream media. Any media outlet determined to do so will misrepresent what we're doing, whether out of malice or laziness. Point a camera at the shirtless guy burning incense, and we're a hippie commune. Show the signs with the pyramids with eyeballs, and we're conspiracy theorists. Show the Ron Paul signs, and we're libertarians. None of these things are accurate in describing the thousands upon thousands of people who've passed through to show their support. But if they'd had a problem with something, there'd be no shortage of targets for their objections. I'd like to give people more credit than that, and not try to gain their support by remaining a blank slate.
The fact is anything can be inflated to wrongly represent the whole. It behooves us to put forward at least a general message of purpose, and of independence, so we can be free to pursue the democratically chosen objectives, while having something readily available to clarify our positions when the inevitable misrepresentation takes place.
That's my take on the matter, and I think it's consistent with OWS's work.
I do agree this can't be a unilateral thing, and I'd expect the unions to support the occupation as well, at least in daytime demonstrations.