Saturday, September 08, 2007

The question of labor and the labor movement

One of the biggest arguments against the labor movement in the United States is that having mass unionization would lead to people being trapped in jobs that they don't necessarily want to stay in for the rest of their lives. The ideal for America is people pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, and collective action is seen sometimes as an admission that this isn't possible for a group of people, in other words it's seen as failure. What makes this idea somewhat stronger is the fact that many progressives who advocate unionization without much nuance themselves have privileged positions and therefore don't have to face the same sorts of issues that the actual workers that they're talking to, or are attempting to talk to, face. The idea that's put forth that, well, you've got to give in sometime, admit that you won't get out of the job, and join a union as a consolation prize doesn't sit well with a lot of people. But that attitude isn't the only one possible, and the idea of just sacrificing freedom for unionization isn't the only idea out there.

A much better idea is that whatever the future has in store, unions are helpful in the here and now. If you're doing a job that's unionized you may either go to school in the future and change jobs, or try something completely different like starting a business, but for the moment the union has the possibility of enhancing your life, of increasing your pay, making the workplace safer, and getting some extended benefits, as well as having a general voice in the workplace. Having a union job says nothing about what your family might do in the future either. Many union people see their kids go to college and go on to do whatever they want to do. So unionization doesn't necessarily mean constraints.

The fact that people are concerned about constraints on their futures and their families futures isn't a sign of a bourgeois attitude but is instead a rational response given the American political tradition.

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