Unions for Dummies

Posted on September 24, 2010 by

Did you catch the bit on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show about the Nevada retail clerks union hiring minimum wage temporary workers to protest Walmart? [CLICK HERE]

Not the kind of segment you want to see on a cable program popular among liberal 18 to 35 year olds.

Definitely entertaining and funny but makes you feel uneasy if you want unions to succeed and are worried about the public perception of the labor movement.

What do you think of this AFL-CIO video called “Next UP” designed to appeal to young workers? [CLICK HERE]

There’s always a lot of chatter about organized labor’s image and there’s no doubt that unions damage their own reputations.

It’s a problem but just a blip compared to the structural and legal obstacles unions face trying to organize workers in the vast nonunion world.

So I can laugh at the clumsy, pathetic and hypocritical attempt to discredit Walmart in Nevada.  At the same time, I can relate to the futility of this near-hopeless struggle against corporate America’s determination to maintain a low-wage, union-free domestic economy.

Comments (5)


  1. Glen Arnodo says:

    I just watched “Next Up,” the young workers video. If this is the labor movement’s idea of relating to young workers, we’re fucking doomed… My 14 year old has done skateboard videos that are more engaging.

  2. Toby Higbie says:

    Lou: I didn’t see the Daily Show bit, but a colleague mentioned it immediately upon seeing me the other day. So it’s definitely making the rounds. I had to laugh because someone had recently told me that UFCW was “getting serious” about Walmart. So much for that.

    One thing the labor movement does need is the ability to take criticism without getting defensive. A health culture of internal and friendly criticism is vital to making this collection of institutions a movement again.

    On a happier note, did you see the Colbert Report bit on farm work? This was prompted (orchestrated?) by a UFW campaign appealing to people to “take our jobs, please.”

  3. Sharona says:

    Saw the Jon Stewart clip – it was brilliant – and I love it when they PUNKED the union official …. “why does a union have NON union people walking the picket line”….official could not think fast enough.

  4. Jon K. says:

    Young people don’t get unions and they are incredibly difficult to mobilize because they are too distracted by tech.

    Something like 33% of Generation Y is unemployed and they’re not marching on the street. Think if they actually had jobs.

  5. John Connolly says:

    No doubt the AFL-CIO’S “Next Up” video is way lamer than it should be. It seems so staged and unspontaneous.
    And the UFCW’s Vegas Walmart Follies wins the The Lame & The Halt Sweepstakes.
    I should point out that the NFL Players Association (and maybe the Baseball Players too) employed pickets-for-hire during strikes. In some weird way this is less lame than the UFCW gambit, given that the median income of pro-atheletes is above $1,000,000 per year.
    It’s still weird. Like hiring mourners at a funeral is weird.
    I wish Glen A’s 14 year old were making videos for the Labor Movement. Or my son James, a 28 year old anti-poverty documentary film maker.
    But they’re not. Yet.

    The worst part of the UFCW embarrassment is the clueless, caught-with-my-pants-down bland responses from the poor Local leader dude.
    The AFL video shows that there is at least a recognition of a significant generational problem and is an earnest if awkward attempt to engage.

    The problem is not just that young people don’t believe in unions (or know what they are), the problem is that there are not enough union JOBS for them to work at.
    Sixty or more years of business unionism — in its left and right variants — transformed Labor from a Movement into a Business, and so welded Labor to the Democratic Party that it generally appears we have no where else to go. We pour $100,000,000 and 100,000 door-to-door/phone banking troops per cycle, and get treated like the crazy uncle in the attic that no one wants to admit to.
    The Labor Movement has allowed itself to be transformed from the largest democratic institution in the Republic, to a distasteful, soiled (and dated) “Special Interest”, and increasingly less effective at that.
    The Dems couldn’t/wouldn’t even come through on the very modest Employee Free Choice Act.

    Poor Lou, I know nothing makes him crazier than talk of a Labor Party (which of course in itself is guarantee of nothing … thank you Tony Blair & Co.), but the demobilization of the Labor Movement, combined with the failure to create and sustain a Labor or Social Democratic political party tied to the Trade Unions has drained away our leverage with the Dems. They take our dough, snicker at us and dare us to go elsewhere.
    Got Nowhere to Run to Baby, Nowhere to Hide.
    Of course there’s a lot more to the problem than I’ve mentioned … the seduction of our class by (all-too-temporary) easy-credit consumerism, and lots more.
    There’s a lot of good stuff going on in Labor too — some really fine leaders, some noble attempts to get it right. I’m not a fatalist or a cynic.
    But The Right is smart … and patient. They set attractive snares for us, often dressed in pretty colors with what looked like a low price tag; and we took the bait too often. We and our forbearers often took the easy way out, and by the time we realized we’d fallen into a trap, we had helped our class enemies create a big, jagged, tar-covered rock for us to roll up the hill.
    It rolls back over us regularly these days.
    It may be that our kids and grandkids will be stuck with getting it right.

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