When American Workers are Under Attack, What do we Do?
Stand Up! Fight Back!
The UFCW Local 135 2016 Steward Conference: Activism, Our Life’s Blood was held earlier this month. And, we’re excited because we gave our stewards a taste of why we’re excited about next year. We’re putting a plan together to engage our members and build our Union to a level we haven’t seen before.
We have two major challenges in 2017. First, we need to turn all of our members into activists for the Union. Second, we need to engage our members, who know what it’s like to be a part of a strong union, to reach out to non-union workers in your own industries.
This is called internal and external organizing. At the Steward Conference, we held organizing workshops where we talked about both types of organizing.
Following the recent national election, we now face an existential threat to Union workers everywhere in the form of a national “Right to Work” law. Currently, about half the states in the country suffer from “right to work” laws. In these states, some workers get a free ride while their coworkers carry all the burden of attempting to maintain a strong union. This divides workers and strengthens the hands of employers.
It’s no coincidence that in Right to Work states, wages, health benefits and pensions are weaker than in strong union states like California. That’s why these states are commonly referred to as “right to work for less” states.
Turning the entire country into a Right to Work environment could severely weaken labor’s power – which has long been the dream of big business and its allies in Congress. The best way to fight these efforts to weaken our Union and all of organized labor is to activate and engage all of our members in building power.
Simply put, we can no longer expect our Stewards and Union staff to do all the work of building a strong union. The union belongs to all of us and we need to send a message now to our employers and politicians that if they try to weaken our Union, we will fight back and become even stronger.
On the external organizing front, we need to organize more workers and build density in our own industries and in other industries within UFCW’s jurisdiction. Density means the percentage of workers in our industries who belong to the Union.
As the chart shows, when union density has been at its highest, working families have shared in the growth of the economy and we’ve had a strong middle class in this country. But as union density has declined due to attacks from CEOs – with the help of union-busting lawyers and politicians – all the gains in the economy have gone to people at the very top, while working families struggle to pay their bills.
We can expect that the new administration will try to make it harder for workers to organize in non-union workplaces. But with our strength as a 14,000-member local, we can reach out to non-union workers, show them the path to building power, bring them into our Union and do our part to rebuild the middle class.
It all comes down to us and how active we’re ready to be.
At the conference, stewards filled out surveys asking for more training, more tools to communicate with members and more social events to bring us all together. We will put a plan in place in 2017 to make all of these great ideas happen. And we will emerge from 2017 prepared for the fight of our lives!