By DAVID A. COOK
I am writing this column shortly before Election Day, but it won’t be read until after. That means this column has no idea who was just elected to the White House. This column has no idea who prevailed in the state and local elections across this country. This column has no idea what our political landscape looks like.
What is most surprising about this is how little it affects my thinking on the work that remains. Elections matter to be sure – and this union has spent plenty of time telling you about how elections impact our ability to represent workers, organize workers, and bargain for workers. Elections matter to be sure, the rights of workers can be subject to politicians and their schemes. Elections matter to be sure, corporations spend mountains of cash ensuring that politicians hear their voice, and not the voices of hard-working families.
LOTS TO BE DONE
And yet I can say with great confidence that regardless of the outcome of our general election, I know precisely how much work there is still left to do. One election won’t fix the systemic problems this country has, even if the outcome is precisely the one that this union hopes for.
One election won’t undo decades of corporate influence eroding the power of workers. One election won’t automatically change years of chipping away at the National Labor Relations Act via NLRB rulings aimed at weakening union power. One election won’t automatically end discrimination in the workplace in states like Missouri where LGBTQ workers have been excluded for years. One election won’t overturn “Right-to-Work-for-Less” laws that exist in more than half the states in this country.
As we’ve said before, this union will stay out of politics as soon as politics stays out of our union, but political activity isn’t the only thing we must do to make progress for workers. We need massive reforms aimed at helping workers.
First and foremost, we need robust changes to how we organize workers. For years, corporations have slowly eroded the power of working people to simply vote on whether or not they wish to join a union family. The deck is stacked against workers who wish to organize, and anyone who has seen an organizing campaign up close can attest to that.
We don’t just have to change our laws to make it easier to organize, we have to do even more. We have to help workers see their own value. I have witnessed focus groups from across the country featuring retail workers and found myself shocked at how little these workers value their own labor. They seem themselves as expendable, replaceable, and place no value on their hard work.
All labor is valuable. There is no such thing as “unskilled labor.” This phrase was thrust on us by corporate leaders and their enablers in public office to lead folks to look down on certain types of work. As long as we allow some workers to be labeled as “unskilled” we will continue to see workers who do not value themselves.
YOUR WORK IS VALUABLE
All labor is skilled, all labor is valuable and necessary. The profits that companies rake in on the backs of their workers is only responsible because of those same workers. Our nation has generated unprecedented wealth, but that wealth is increasingly in the hands of a smaller and smaller group of people.
Workers need to know their power and their value. As a union, we can help guide them toward these principles, but ultimately they must take ownership of this concept themselves. Non-union workers must know the better life that can come if they fight for a union, and union workers need to take ownership of their union and be engaged in our ongoing efforts, whether that’s participating in contract meetings or just exercising their rights at work and understanding their contract.
For 12 years or so, politics has felt particularly vicious. I’ve been around long enough to witness both parties winning the Congress or the White House, and I’ve seen my fair share of political fights. The last 12 years have been different, and many Americans are yearning for a time not too long ago when politics stopped at the water’s edge, and our own political leanings didn’t harm our personal relationships.
Of course, politics has never been neat and tidy, but it also didn’t dominate every aspect of our lives. Politics has never been clean and friendly, but there was a time when it didn’t feel so raw and mean. It was once understood that politics was about the art of the possible, and we often found solutions where nobody got everything they wanted, but everybody got something.
There’s an “all or nothing” philosophy that seems to dominate these days. “Compromise” is treated like a dirty word, an unacceptable step to take. Working with people on the other side of the aisle is treated as a betrayal of values instead of applauded as the art of finding common ground.
DESPITE THE ELECTION…
I know we can’t solve this in one election, but we ought to make it our goal going forward. We can oppose one another without being enemies. We can disagree without being disagreeable, and we can see things differently without seeing each other as villains. It’s time to find some healing.
Elections matter, and I don’t know if you’re reading this knowing the election results, or if you’re reading this amidst a sea of uncertainty as ballots continue to be counted.
What I do know is that one election isn’t enough, and there’s so much more work to do, and we must do it together.