Opinion: If Labor is to survive, we need to bring back ‘unionism’



What is unionism?

With the onslaught — and it is nothing less than an extremely aggressive onslaught — of Labor, bargaining rights being ripped from place here in Missouri and across the nation, just what is unionism? Brother/Sisterhood? Activism? Organization/organizing? Solidarity? Solidarity with whom? Just your organization, or other union organizations?

What about those who are not union? Any solidarity involved with them?

Many, sadly, don’t know…. but there are Labor actions taking place fairly often right here in St. Louis. There were organizing efforts at Pfizer and Fields Foods; there was the campaign against Schnucks (now over); Washington U. adjunct professors were organized; I have two friends, one who has organized charter schools, one who organizes health care facilities.

The Fight for $15/Show Me $15 movement. A grass-roots movement that has grown tremendously in the last couple of years. Every one of these actions (forgive me if I’ve missed any) has needed allies, friends and supporters — both physically and monetarily.


Sadly, from what I’ve seen firsthand, it’s been dismal.

Talking about “Brothers and Sisters,” “Solidarity”… is romantic. Acting on it seems to be not so much.

Now with the phony “right-to-work” fiasco staring us in the face I hear people asking, “What can I do? I want to get involved!!!” Maybe we can do what we should have been doing all of these years? Support one another. Support the working class.

There are people on picket lines? Visit them! Take them coffee, stop and chat, give them a gift card for lunch.

There is an organizing effort? Ask the organizing union what you can do to help. It’s usually not that much. Speak to the people that are being organized. In person.

Attend marches, demonstrations, rallies. Talk with people, union or not, and offer support in their cause.

A legislator that was fighting RTW told me once: “You want support, you had better GIVE support! “


Be aware. Be aware of what is affecting Labor. It may not be an outright attack, in your face, but an attack on the flank, i.e. Voter ID.

I understand that I’m retired, have a bit of time to learn, and that others are working, but don’t we have retiree clubs? Apprenticeship classes? Allies? Allies are spouses, friends.

Retiree clubs could do things like visit picket lines, attend marches, visit the state capital. All of this is, to me, is what apprentices should be learning ALONG with their craft.

Activism has always been part, more than part, it IS unionism. I think that we have distanced ourselves completely from it.


And look where we are.

Too many have never stood on a picket line, never been involved in an organizing attempt.

Too many don’t understand what simply stopping and talking, taking a drink or a sandwich can do for morale to those involved in an action. Honking is fine but just “being there in spirit” sucks and is actually insulting.

Too many don’t understand what getting involved does for you personally — to give solidarity, give some attention to someone, or a group that is fighting, struggling, is very fulfilling.

Get a couple of friends, get your retiree club, your apprenticeship class, get your Democratic Township, get your Coon Dog Club and help in labor actions. You’ll be glad you did.

Let’s not let old-fashioned solidarity die. It’s more important now than ever before!

(Kevin Fitzgerald is a 30-year retired member of Heat & Frost Insulators Local 1, a member of a proud union family — his brother and four uncles were also Insulators.)

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