As a former shop steward, I have spent a significant number of hours preaching “unionism” to our new members and at the same time dealing with our more pessimistic members. I have found it difficult to deal with the members losing enthusiasm with the idea of the union. I have attended various seminars given by Labor Notes and Teamsters Democratic Union; I noticed a distinctive pattern over the last few years. The workers are slowly losing the battle to the corporations for the basic rights unions fought for during the 1930’s. If the trend continues, then the term “modern day slavery” will hold true in the near future. Being a union member, I have been interested in the underlying factors in the declining number of unionized employees who participate in union activities in regards to United Parcel Service; and wondered why there is an overall decline in the number of union members in the United States.
The global economy has shifted the balance of power the labor workforce once enjoyed back into the realm of the corporation. Technology is presently replacing the jobs that have not left the American borders. Often new positions are not being filled by simple machinery but jobs that require a technological understanding that often requires a degree or specialized training. The problem confronting unions is whether they have the ability to adapt to the changing labor market by unionizing these jobs or risk the possibility of fading away.
If the core concept of unionism does disappear; then how much of a advantage will corporation have in utilizing labor-saving technology in creating divide between the employee and labor unions? Union members over the last two decades have been concerned with the combination of declining membership, jobs moving overseas, and the union’s loss of political clout around the country. The Occupy Wall Street and Ninety-nine (99) percent labor movements echoed those concerns; both groups worked in completely different work environments. The two movements shared the desire to the corrupt practices of the corporate world, specifically Wall Street. The unfortunate fact about these movements is the fact they were not organized enough to have made a real impact on the practices of corporations towards the laborer.
All individuals in the workforce need to understand, that today is an important time in considering what direction they want to go as laborers in the very near future. Will the employee function as an individual lost within the Complex Communications System or will they seek a way to organize collectively for the basic rights of the worker? Unions need to be able to both adapt and find ways to transition from concept of representing manufacturing who once had the leverage of striking to organizing all forms of workers in general.
I support the union, but more importantly I am a staunch supporter of the worker. I do believe the corporation and the small business owner should reap as much benefits from their business endeavors, but not at the expense of the taking advantage of the worker. The success of a business is also determined by the quality of work by their employees. The typical employee does not seek nothing more than a decent wage, good working conditions, and decent benefits from their employers. The basic idea of exploitation is not a new one in the United States; the core principle behind slavery was the exploitation of cheap labor (free) for profit. The concept of the corporation is not a old one nor the methods used in achieving a profit. Time has shown that corporation can not be, in good faith, counted on to fairly reward their employees without oversight or at the very least deal with an organized entity representing the workers. The profit driven stock market has consistently rewarded corporate greed with constant announcements of new layoffs of the workforce in order to increase profits and cut cost. They are able to do this by reducing the actual workfore, paycuts, or worse, finding ways to reduce retirement pensions.
Both the unions and the overall work force need to be aware of the changing definition of labor; and find a way to redefine the purpose of the union in order to organize into a collective group. Labor unions once dominant in American society has seen a steady decline in its membership since the 1970’s. Labor unions have long battled corporate attempts to hire non-union members for the purpose of “breaking” the unions themselves. And if not successufl in breaking up the unions, they have support legislation, such as the right-to-work laws, in order to stamp out unions or reduce the influence in the within the political circles. Unions have blamed globalization as one of many factors that have led to the declination of their membership. Corporations have in fact shipped jobs overseas, supported the the breaking up of the unions in those countries, and in return offered low wages to those ex-unionized workers. The other underlying fact is that corporations, that have not shipped jobs overseas, have shifted to labor-saving technology. Just as the industrial revolution had an effect on slavery in the United States, technology potentially has ended the need for the type of laborers who support labor unions. Unions need to seek a new strategy in increasing membership; by redefining what the meaning of laborer in the labor technology saving world.