Labor Movement Must Be More Than Just a Union Movement

Richard Wolff commenting on the UAW loss of the union election at the Volkswagen plant in Chattenooga, Tennessee. Unions need to develop allies throughout the community in order to win the hearts & minds of the workers.

Organizations of business, the wealthy and the conservatives (think tanks, foundations, hired public relations firms, advertising enterprises, major newspapers, mass radio and TV stations, internet outlets and social media) work constantly to shape workers’ life experiences and thus how they see the world. Because of their dependence on financing from businesses and the wealthy, most Republicans and Democrats avoid conflicts with their campaigns to shape public opinion. Conservatives pander to them.

No alternative, different way to see the world similarly surrounds workers in their daily lives. Workers’ organizations (unions, think tanks, independent media) are many fewer, poorer and much weaker. “Outside influences” shape workers’ consciousness one-sidedly because of the gross disparity of resources available to those exerting that influence. What made local Republicans and conservatives’ billboards persuasive was public opinion; the shape of that opinion defeated unionization in Tennessee. How differently “outside influences” work in other countries is suggested by this simple fact: virtually all of VW’s 105 factories elsewhere are unionized.

During the middle 1930s, millions joined unions for the first time: the greatest unionization drive in history.

The history of unionization in the US reinforces the point. During the middle 1930s, millions joined unions for the first time: the greatest unionization drive in history. We had never seen anything like it before, nor have we since. Unionization then was achieved by a remarkable alliance: unions (allied in the Congress of Industrial Organizations or CIO) plus large, active socialist and communist parties. Those parties widely and effectively contested the “outside influences” stemming from business, the wealthy and conservatives. Socialists and communists mobilized their own media, writers, artists and academics into play. Their demonstrations on many social issues made news and their organizations disseminated a distinctive interpretation of that news. They contradicted what business, the wealthy and conservatives asserted and not only around particular issues. Many among them also contested the economic system arguing that the US could and should do better than capitalism. Interested teachers, clergy, students, immigrant and racial minorities and the general public thus continuously encountered perspectives other than those of business, the wealthy and conservatives.

Excerpt from MOYERS & COMPANY http://billmoyers.com/2014/02/17/a-lesson-from-chattanooga/

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