Monday, May 2, 2011

What is the Purpose of a Union?

Are Unions established to protect jobs for nationals or do they exist to protect the working class?  This question came up in a lively debate on Twitter tonight.
The semi-incendiary language aside, it's a legitimate question to ask.  What should unions do?

It's my personal belief that unions exist as a feature of the class divisions in society and that those class distinctions cut across national boundaries.  I admit a preference for the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) view that we need One Big Union to organize on behalf of all working people everywhere.

While the "Wobblies" believe in an abolition of the wage system and the creation of worker democracy at the shop floor level, they also hold that "an injury to one is an injury to all."  The wage issue is moot at this point, the question of injury remains cogent to this day.

Undocumented workers (I chose not to use the term "Illegal Alien" as it is both pejorative and inflammatory) are a reality.  They have been with us for quite some time.  The Brasero program began right after World War II to import cheap labor from Mexico to work on the large industrial farms in California's Central Valley.  This labor was critical to the US food supply.  Despite the fact that the program officially ended in 1965, the flow of (and demand for) low-skill, low-wage industrial farm workers continues unabated.  But what does this really mean for the US labor market?

Impact to Domestic Labor in the United States
Despite the hue and cry by reactionaries that we are "awash" in "illegal immigrants," the reality is that our nation could not function effectively without these workers.  And their semi-legal status means that, as a community, they are ripe for exploitation by employers.  Let's look at the impact of these undocumented workers.

It has been convincingly argued that these workers are here filling jobs that native-born Americans would not take, regardless of the wage offered. Industrial farming is the clearest example of this.  But similar roles exist in landscaping and construction.  These jobs are stigmatized and generate an underclass of workers in much the same way that early industrial workers were stigmatized by the craft unions.

In our postindustrial economy, native workers will often chose to pursue higher education in lieu of low-wage, low-skill employment.  They will bypass these stigmatized low-wage jobs in favor of entry-level white collar jobs that offer hope of advancement.

The process of low-wage, undesirable jobs taken by immigrants is called "structural demand."  It posits that immigrants come to a developed nation like America to work these undesirable jobs simply because the represent the best opportunity to survive in the absence of opportunities at home.  We, as Americans, benefit from this arrangement.

Our immigration laws only serve to reinforce this dichotomy.  And it is this dichotomy, the creation of the permanent underclass, that explains why I believe that it is both right and just for Unions to pursue a policy to represent these workers.

AFL-CIO Marches for Immigration Reform and Amnesty
On May 1st, 2011, thousands marched around the country for workers rights, both public and private, and for immigration reform.  The AFL-CIO sees this as key to their strategy to continue to grow their Union.  They understand that the fastest growing worker population in America is Hispanic.  And that community includes millions of undocumented workers who desperately need union representation.

Workers’ rights and immigrant rights are connected.  CEO-backed politicians are targeting all working people—including immigrants—with their corporate-sponsored political agenda and continuing power grab. In addition to demanding protection for collective bargaining and other workers’ rights, ralliers will call for comprehensive immigration reform and passage of the DREAM Act, which would provide undocumented young people a pathway to legal residency through higher education or service in the military.

Now the existing rank-and-file will need education on why including this vast underclass of undocumented workers benefits their cause (it does, through dues and influence) but I believe it can be done.  They can be made to see how protecting these workers serves to protect themselves.  It must be done.  America is depending on it.

No comments:

Post a Comment