The antilabor forces have amassed again and are reciting their standard mantras: Organized labor is dead; no one wants to join unions; and the unions are unnecessary in the workplace of the future. How wrong they are!
Organized labor is alive and strong. It will survive as long as mankind survives, for organized labor comprises human beings who have joined forces in organizations with a common purpose and a common pride.
Why have people throughout the ages organized into labor unions? Why will they continue to organize? Whom will they organize? Who benefits from organized labor?
Particularly in the last century, workers realized that in numbers and in unity, there is strength. Their working conditions were deplorable; their hours of labor were exceedingly long and wearying; their pay was meager and unjust. As individuals, how could they overcome such burdens? They could not. So, workers organized into groups with similar jobs and interests to gain leverage in their dealings with employers. These groups - unions - accomplished much as they fought for fairness and justice for workers. But the need for their continuation remains.
While organized labor succeeded in overcoming many adversities in many industries, it has not yet accomplished all its goals. In many parts of the world, deplorable working conditions, long work hours, and inadequate pay remain the worker's plight. In the United States and Canada, organized labor suffers the threat of union busters, determined to destroy unions and end labor's right to bargain collectively for improved working conditions, shorter hours of work, better pay and benefits which are due to all working people. Many workplaces in the United States and Canada still lack the improved conditions won by organized labor through collective bargaining in some industries and plants. That is why working people will continue to organize into labor unions.
Organized labor cannot rest until all unorganized workers become aware of the goals and achievements of labor unions; of the benefits of membership in organized labor; and of labor's unending pursuit of social, political and economic improvements for all human beings. Organized labor cannot rest until all unorganized workers are allowed to decide for themselves, by secret ballot, whether or not they want to belong to labor unions.
Who can best relate the truth about organized labor to the unorganized? The members of labor unions, of course. Each of us in organized labor should realize that we could not have accomplished anything on our own. The founders of organized labor, united in their cause, struggled long and hard to improve pay, conditions and benefits. We have won additional improvements through our continuing membership in labor unions and by bargaining collectively for all, not just a few. The founders of organized labor overcame hurdles we will never face. They fought the good battle, not just for themselves, but for all unorganized workers and for future generations. We cannot become smug in the belief that we did it all for ourselves. We cannot become too complacent and think we have it made and to heck with the other guys.
It is not enough to feel satisfied and think, "My plant is organized; why should I bother to help organize that other plant across town?" It is not enough to feel satisfied and think, "My office is organized; why should I bother to help organize that other office in the neighborhood?"
It is never enough until we reach all unorganized workers so they, too, can enjoy the improved conditions of work and better living conditions workers have won by belonging to labor unions. It is never enough: because complacently breeds a false sense of security. What has been gained, can sometimes be lost. The pitfalls of complacency are intensified by the efforts of those who would like to kill organized labor and dump it into a deep grave.
Organized labor must get out and organize those with whom we are now competing for jobs. We must recruit new labor union members. Our goal, stated as the first "Object" of the IBEW, is "to organize all workers in the entire electrical industry in the United States and Canada, including all those in public utilities and electrical manufacturing, into local unions." As members, we can sell the IBEW to nonunion workers by being friendly and helpful, and by being informed about the IBEW and organized labor in general, so we can answer their questions. The pride we have in our training and skills is evident in the products and services we provide. Still, it never hurts to tell others about the opportunities available to us in organized labor through apprenticeship programs, training courses and other educational opportunities.
We must educate the unorganized about the additional benefits gained through collective bargaining - pensions, annuities, paid vacations and holidays, medical and hospital insurance, dental insurance, paid prescription plans, vision care, etc. We must explain to the unorganized that the benefits gained through belonging to a labor union are good, concrete returns which guarantee future work opportunities and a better way of life for our families. WE must demonstrate our pride in belonging, our sense of accomplishment, our camaraderie and our spirit of sharing. WE must tell the unorganized what organized labor can do for them. WE need to organize!
The efforts of organized labor result in better working conditions, hours of work, pay and fringe benefits for union members, of course. But workers derive other benefits from union membership. Union members are better informed on many matters. They make better voters. They show a real interest in the progress of working people. They can speak with more authority on social, economic, labor and political maters. They can help inform others. They also have a voice in decision made by their local unions, civic groups, political associations, national political parties and consumer groups.
Is organized labor, then, a "special interest" group, as has so often been charged (particularly during election campaigns)? Clearly, the answer is, no. Since its inception, organized labor has led the battle for a wide range of protective measures for the welfare of all people - for decent working hours, conditions and pay for all workers, not just union members. Organized labor is often a leading proponent of important social legislation: such as, Social Security, Railroad Retirement, Medicare, safety and health protection on the job, food programs for the hungry, public health programs, civil rights, voting rights, better consumer protection, equal pay for equal work, equal employment opportunities and public education. Organized labor supports legislation regarding minimum wages and overtime compensation, child labor, age discrimination, the shorter work week, workers' compensation, unemployment compensation, better housing, better transportation, adequate and equitable taxes, job training for the unskilled, and government-sanctioned apprenticeship programs. As we said before, organized labor supports programs and legislation which benefits everyone.
Members of organized labor, through their local unions, participate in a variety of community activities - civic campaigns and projects, blood donations, blood pressure and diabetes checkups, scout troops and athletic teams, agencies which help the less fortunate, etc. Just as they reap benefits from bargaining collectively with management, so union members can reap benefits from collectively acting on behalf of others.
No, organized labor is not a special-interest group. It is a group of special interests. Ours is the cause of many, and we will continue our cause that the many may be served.
From: IBEW Journal/April 1996
Talk to an IBEW Membership Development Representative today @ (408)269-4332
Pete Seaberg - Javier Casillas - Basil Romero