Interview: Picking Up The Peaces
Unions: The Royal Con
National Focus: Around the Grounds
Economics: The Secret War on Trade
International: United Front
History: Confessions of a Badge Collector
Politics: Stalin’s Legacy
Review: Such Was Not Ned’s Life
Poetry: Osama's Top Recruiter
Satire: Woolworths CEO Denied Bonus After Company Posts Profit
The Locker Room
The Fog of War
Trots Bomb Back
Postcard from Harvard
I am proud to be part of the class of 2003. This group is symbolic of the diversity of the international union movement. With participants from throughout the world, including the United States of America, Canada, Japan, Spain, South Africa and, of course, Australia - the groups reflects the National, ethnic, gender and age diversity that the movement needs to represent all working people.
To all our friends, families and work colleagues who want to know what we've been up to here in Boston, other than important stuff, like drinking and socialising.
Well...Elaine Bernard [The Program Executive Director] has squeezed every possible ounce of productive time out of us... lectures through the day, readings at night, the Harvard Trade Union Program is serious.
What we have learned over the last few weeks unfolds like a story...the story of the Labor Movement...it is not a story that fits into any single lecture, nor a story that has been taught to us by a Professor...but only becomes clear at the end. Putting together the learning of the last six weeks...and applying our collective experience as union leaders...a narrative unfolds.
Unions are in a period of decline. It is true almost throughout the western world that union membership rates are falling, and with this decline, our power and our capacity to achieve outcomes also declines.
Worst - as the jobs in many traditionally unionised industries have disappeared, we have sometimes succumbed to the temptation to fight each-other over the remnants, rather than build power in new unorganized areas. This drains us, further accelerating our decline.
There are those that say that unions have fulfilled their mission - that they were needed at one time - but working conditions are so much better now.
But as the union movement has declined, inequality has risen. Despite growth, despite the prosperity of the developed world and despite the optimism of the New Economy.
But there is hope!
The fact is, that unions are needed today as much as ever - the struggle for social justice is a continuous one. Even to keep what has been achieved in the past, unions are required.
Unions are a certain feature of every free capitalist society. There was no law passed by which unions were created - they emerge spontaneously. Unions are a natural, legitimate and necessary part of the capitalist economy. Unions are a force that drives capitalist system to change for the better - ensuring that it evolves.
They mightn't like us - but like all bad tasting medicine, we are good for them!
There are telltale signs that the current system is struggling to renew itself. The Tech-Wreck has halted the nineties boom. The dishonesty and lack of values amongst the corporate elites, exposed by the Enron and WorldCom collapses, highlights underlying weaknesses.
We know that this is not the first period of decline for the Union movement. World events move in cycles - the environment changes, thinking changes, values change. The further the pendulum of history is drawn in one particular direction - the more powerful the inevitable counter swing.
Labor leaders need to recognise the current environment of crisis as an opportunity...not to be hidden or avoided...but to be discussed, debated, understood and dealt with. It is the harnessing of this sense of crisis that will empower union leaders to drive the reforms we know the Labor Movement needs.
A business as usual approach will condemn our movement to oblivion. Crisis drives change - so now is the time for our movement to reform - to regain the energy and idealism that it once had.
In this time of crisis we must unite and support each other as a movement... organizational rivalries must be put aside, our institutional barriers lowered. By working together, unions live up to the values that we promote to our membership: collectivism and solidarity. A united labor movement will always be a more powerful one.
Whether or nor things become more favorable in the short term, the challenge for the unions is to muscle-up and be ready to grow. Unions cannot afford to simply "stay on ice" until things get better, or "manage the decline", they need to be constantly experimenting, innovating and taking the fight up to the bosses and their allies.
The law is against us...dismissal of workplace leaders...banning of secondary boycotts...permanent replacement of strikers - the law supports the bosses.
If the law is to be changed then the Labor Movement must engage in a wide ranging social struggle...both in the workplace and in the community. Furthermore the gains of our members will only ever be safe when, through political action, we have achieved them for everyone...making unions as the voice of all working people.
Over the last six weeks we've been exposed to the ideas we need - organizing, campaigning around issues, thinking strategically, managing organisational change, building workplace networks, promoting leadership, educating members and shaping opinion.
There is no right answer - we must pick and choose what will work for our own organisation - but the message is clear, we need to break out of our comfort zone and re-discover the tactics that built the Labor Movement in the first place.
And we must do this remembering that our members want a better world - not perpetual revolution. Everything we do must have a purpose, it must be winnable...the tactics are to achieve an outcome not an end in themselves.
As we return to our organisations we go back enriched...having taken time out to re-evaluate...and re-charge.
I'd like to finish up with a the words of a famous Australian unionist - William Guthrie Spence, the founder of Industrial unionism in Australia - he said:
"The level-headed trade unionist of experience is the most practical man or woman in the world, and God knows the world has need of them to push on the work of social and political reform"
That was said in 1909 - but the words are as true today as they ever were.
|Search All Issues | Latest Issue | Previous Issues | Print Latest Issue|
© 1999-2002 Workers Online