Whether you realize it or not, unions help you in countless ways. Union workers still hold a substantial wage and benefit premium over non-union workers. Basically, you’re more likely to be paid better, have more vacation time, a better benefit package, than if you’re not in a union. Your workplace is likely to be a lot safer (compare unionized vs non-unionized manufacturing facilities — and coal mines.) If union standards for pay, benefits, safety and health didn’t exist, there would be no pressure on non-union employers to, at least, try to approach them. Moreover, as the National Labor Relations Act states in its preamble, unions augment worker’s purchasing power and thus boost the entire economy.
If you have any concerns about the danger of large, concentrated private power and money — from the Koch brothers to the oil companies to the insurance companies — unions, even now in their weakened condition, are likely to be the loudest, most powerful ally you will have. Unions, as the old saying goes, the folks who brought you the weekend. And fight for your Social Security. And your Medicare and Medicaid. And — despite a long history of racism, like the rest of America — the Civil Rights Act. And now, increasingly, LGBT rights. Meaning a bunch of issues that have nothing directly to do with unionized workers (the minimum wage doesn’t either — and unions fight for that, too.) And safe workplaces. And on and on. At their best, unions try to make America a better place, not merely for their members, but for millions of others.
Unions aren’t perfect — they are not a “countervailing” power when what their own workers do is itself anti-social (see the police unions, for example, in the past few weeks post Ferguson). But, if you read the news you understand that governments, corporations, and non-profits like universities aren’t perfect, either. In the past several decades of democratic revolutions all over the world — from South Korea to Eastern Europe to South Africa and elsewhere — unions and workers are in the forefront of those struggles. And when those movements are crushed, it is the organizations of workers that are among the first to be destroyed or neutered. In a democratic society, unions are a critical part of the political culture, at their best transcending the differences of race, gender, sexual orientation and much more that divide people from one another, providing a democratic space in civil society between the family and the state. That’s what social solidarity is about — sometimes unions have to fight against the wealthy and powerful, but, in doing so, they bring people together.
Happy Labor Day. Are Unions Dead?