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Unions: Know Your Members & Your History

One way union leaders are failing their members is that the leaders don’t know who their members are. To stop union busters, one must first understand union workers or even non-union workers’ view of unions. It is imperative that union leaders first understand the factors that influence a worker’s view regarding unions, which include the worker’s family background, including their parents’ occupation and any experience that their parents or other close relatives have had with unions, which may affect the attitude of a young or frustrated worker. How do you know what the worker is thinking if you don’t know who the members are and you speak with them? As a union rep, you should know the workers’ employment experiences, their pay and working conditions, their treatment by supervisors, the degree of security they feel, their advancement opportunities or failures for advancement because these can all profoundly influence how a worker perceives their employer and their reaction to unions. You need to be involved in the workers’ lives to some extent. Moreover, their experiences within their union—the union leadership, the economic and social functions, and the way union officers may have handled grievances in which they were involved—are likewise important as the bargaining relationship between the unions and the employers. Then union leaders must understand the types of union members. Another way union leaders are failing is that leaders don’t know their own union history or union history itself or even the research that has already been done on unions and union members. Union members can be put into one of seven types, which are 1) ideological unionist; 2) good union member; 3) loyal but critical member; 4) dually oriented member; 5) card-carrier or indifferent member; 6) unwilling unionist; 7) crisis activist from the Typology of Union Members from the American Journal of Sociology LXI May 1956 by Jack London, Joel Seidman, Bernard Karsh, Daisy L. Tagliacozzo, The Worker Views his Union University of Chicago Press. There is much more information out there. How can a union leader affectively lead a group of people if they, as a leader, are ill equipped? You can’t lead from behind, which is what you are doing when you don’t know your history. This lack of knowledge is why we are fighting the fights that were already fought by the International Workers of the World, Rose Pesotta, the Reuther brothers, Esther Peterson, Joe Hill, Lucy Larcom, Big Bill Haywood, Mother Jones, John L. Lewis, Frances Perkins, Eugene Debs, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, and George Meany, and countless others who literally gave their lives to improve our working lives and environment. Union executives have done their unions and its members a great a great disservice in not keeping members informed of their history, of the unions missions, stepping outside the members best interests and donating to campaigns of anti-union politicians. Is it any wonder that workers are being misled by right to work propaganda? The workers are not informed enough to understand the small union fees they pay each month is nothing compared to the drastic cut in wages and benefits they will experience under this deceptive legislation, and no one is more to blame than the people at the top of the union organizations. They make the decisions and the justifications for those decisions were kept from the bottom-line worker. That’s not how you build trust, confidence or commitment. Ultimately, unions have no one to blame for their demise but themselves as they dropped the ball and chose to side with the what was easier and looked more professional instead of carrying on the fight in honor of our fallen members.

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