Monday, March 09, 2015

Why Organize?

The history of progressives, socialists, and organized labour is long and tangled and anything but consistent. Just the same, here is a list of a few features of modern life fought for by progressives, some socialists, and labour unions.

1. The eight-hour work day: In 1886, four anarchists were executed in the aftermath of US-wide strikes for an eight-hour work day. This action is allegedly the real origin of May Day.

2. A living wage: Note: not available in all jurisdictions

3. Suffrage: Unions were major players in winning the vote for working men. In recognition of March 8, International Women's Day, I would have to note that some unions were also major players in resisting women's suffrage in the twentieth century.

4. Public services: Trade unions were some of the first to advance the idea of public health and public education for all. Regrettably, while unions themselves may still support these ideals today, my experience with individual union members differs.

5. Solidarity in the workplace: At least in theory, workers enjoy greater security in the workplace because of organized labour, meaning that we have the right to speak out against management and to work together to advance the greater good because our colleagues and co-workers will take our sides. A good theory.

Regrettably, unions globally are losing their traction, and locally some unions have grown complacent about their ongoing work toward social progress. My "professional association", for instance, gave up its right to strike a decade ago and is increasingly on side with management rather than working for the majority of its membership, who provide just-in-time, insecure teaching labour; no surprise that these members of the precariate are mostly women.

Despite gains in the twentieth century, we've lost a lot of ground en route to social inequality. We have a long way to go! Are you listening, Alberta?

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