Union Strong

Posted on March 6, 2011 by

There are 14 million union members in the United States.

Forget for a minute the rapid and alarming decline in the overall percentage (11.9) and the incredible shrinkage in the private sector (6.9).

Even though nearly twice as many Americans watch American Idol each week, 14 mil is nevertheless a lot of people.  And keep in mind the multiplier effect:  the number of union “households.”  You get my point. 

Granted, many union members pay virtually no attention to the fact that they work under a collective bargaining agreement and some will immediately throw out any mail which comes to their house (particularly if it recommends how they should vote).

But taking into account hostile or indifferent members, the labor movement still has enormous reach and – in many circles – strong support and loyalty.

Over the past 20 years, Los Angeles has developed a pretty impressive activist base.  Yet  in this vastly populated region – there are allegedly as many as 800,000 union members in LA County- only a very small portion do anything union-related (attend a membership meeting, steward training or rally).

With national attention on Madison, one of organized labor’s most important and toughest jobs is to mobilize our membership.

As you know, different unions have very particular cultures and member profiles.  Local union officers, staff, reps and organizers – already stressed by current obligations – may now feel added pressure to take their outreach efforts to a new level.

But just imagine:  If the planned March 26 downtown LA labor demonstration drew one percent of the county’s union members, the streets would be clogged for miles.

I’m convinced that millions of union members across America are moved by the events in Wisconsin.

Now it’s up to our unions to keep in step.

Comments (4)


  1. Greg says:

    We would be thrilled to have 1% of our members hit the street for the Labor demonstration on March 26th. We expect at least a couple hundred for sure.

  2. Nick Eldredge says:

    Shortly after your latest blog arrived, another friend sent a political cartoon that’s remarkably relevant on several counts:

    A small mouse wearing a TEA PARTY t-shirt smiles calmly at the viewer while holding a hand-held sign that reads: SUPPORT THE FAT CATS

    If disengaged union members and troubled non-union workers are able to see the dire short and long term economic consequences of the latest Republican/corporate/uber-wealthy power-grab, they will sit bolt upright in their collective political bed, slap a hand to their mutual forehead, jump into their work clothes and get the hell organized.
    Can the true story be told in a way that will cut through the slippery corporate half-truths and outright Republican lies?
    Can fear-fuzzed perceptions be recalibrated?
    At the moment, it seems very possible.
    And absolutely essential.
    We gotta get to work.

  3. TOM SCOTTO says:

    I coined the phase “Two leaders can achieve what two armies can not”

    The meaning of this statement reflects the fact that ..it is the union leaders that must unite before the membership will follow.

    How can you have unity when there is a fractured labor leadership? For example…the AFL-CIO and Change to Win.

    If we are to tackle this most recent outburst against workers benefits…leadership should lead the charge.

    Coalitions for a common good has great benefits.

    If the Leadership can’t see the benefits NOW…they never will.

  4. John Connolly says:

    Labor Lou points out a fundamental truth routinely ignored by the Media: Unions are the largest democratic organizations in the United States.

    We can discuss our many flaws; but the above is a fact.

    And what I used to tell meetings of new members at AFTRA is fundamentally true as well: Your union is the only institution in your working life which is directly responsible only to you and your colleagues.

    Overall, with all our flaws, our unions have carried out their basic responsibilities to represent the interests of workers pretty well, far better that elected legislatures or politicians have done their jobs.

    Unions have become in some measure victims of their own success. After an initial heroic period of mass struggle at their founding, unions have functioned increasingly routinely and delivered substantially what the members wanted. Then the members took it for granted that the system would last forever. And democratically went to sleep.

    More the fools we.

    You don’t have to be a revolutionary socialist to understand that Capitalism is a class system based on accumulation … pro-capitalist AFL- founder Sam Gompers understood that with his famous response to the question “What Does Labor Want?” … “More,” says he. More.

    The owners of Capital always want More.
    How do they get it?

    Well, business competition isn’t enough, so they need to take More from us.

    Take a look around. In a world of fabulous wealth … for others … we’re told by Chris Christie and John Boehner : “We’re Broke!” Even as our collective nose is rubbed in the televised effluvia of wealth, we’re told there is not enough money for health care, or mortgages, or college, and soon … water and food.

    Over the last two weeks, Rachel Maddow, Laurence O’Donnell and Ed Schultz — God Bless ‘em — have come closest to actually spelling out how important trade unions are in this country. They have said how crucial unions are not only to the livelihood of working people, but indeed to the maintenance of democracy itself in the United States.

    They understand that without the unions, the Democratic Party is going down, and the Yahoos will rule for a looong time.

    Now, we can discuss efficacy of the Dems for working class Americans — I generally characterize the difference between Democrats and Republicans by saying the Republicans are the ones who stab you in the front.

    But whether you are a pro-Capitalist Liberal, or a socialist revolutionary, a piece of common ground we can both stand on is the recognition that to preserve democracy in the USA, we’d better keep the largest democratic organizations in the nation intact.

    That’s not just worth fighting for, it’s indispensable.

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