By Robert Holst
“Our current politics is framed in such a way that now, if two people stand next to an apple tree filled with apples, and one person needs an apple, they take it from the other person. Not the tree.”
Trade unionism in the workplace is based on the idea that a group of workers share a common goal and interests. When we pull further back, organized labor on the whole is based on the working class sharing common goals and interests. Unions on the local level organize and empower individual workers. Organized labor on a national level represents the needs of the whole working class. Labor moves the shared ideals of dignity in the workplace, and economic security for our families, forward. All people want the same things: a secure neighborhood in which to live; an opportunity for our children to be educated; access to healthcare when we need it; and a way to retire with dignity after a lifetime of work.
Unions can extend these things to those who join one. They are able to better achieve these goals because those who join see themselves connected to the other members. They believe for the most part, their own best interests are intrinsically connected to the interests of their brothers and sisters – a connection regardless of race, color, creed or gender.
In my union (IBEW Local Union #3) the membership has time and time again voted to forgo raises or contributions towards retirement to make sure other members don’t have to go without. In a period of harsh unemployment, members voted to reduce contributions to their own retirement to ensure others wouldn’t lose health care coverage. Currently members of my union are on strike for almost 2 years against Charter/Spectrum Communications. The striking workers are making sacrifices that will benefit the workers that aren’t striking. Their futures are linked, and as such the sacrifice must be shared in some way. That’s why those not on strike have made adjustments to help ease (not eliminate) the burden for strikers.
Our country and its politics should work the same way. Currently our country is more divided than ever. Tribalism has replaced governing. Honest discussions and debates that are based on reason and fact do not exist. We do not share in the gains made as a society. We certainly aren’t sharing the sacrifices. It’s winner-take-all, and power and wealth are concentrated in the hands of the few. For one to move up, they must pull another down. It’s toxic and it’s weakening our nation. E pluribus unum is a quaint outdated motto.
In countries around the world, we see people proud to be investing in each other. Everyone has healthcare. Everyone gets an education. People are willing to pay for wages that help others support themselves. Why? Because of the same principles that drive trade unionism: Concern for one another and shared interests and ideals. They focus on the things we all need rather than what makes us different. I realize Nationalism has become a dirty word because of our current situation. But shared values and principles are how every great society has moved forward. If I see you as somebody whose best interests are somehow linked to mine, you aren’t a burden anymore. I will not be “Giving money to takers!” I’ll be lifting my brother or sister. (Much the same as trade unionism.) I’d be more apt to understand that taxes fund the greater good. Diversity is important and should be celebrated, but not for the SAKE of being diverse. It should be celebrated for how we overcome differences and accomplish things as Americans. That all these different people can come from everywhere and still identify as one group that looks out for one one another. We should strive to accentuate our common goals and ideals, not our differences. We all want to be recognized as individuals but at times it comes at the cost of progress.
Our current politics is framed in such a way that now, if two people stand next to an apple tree filled with apples, and one person needs an apple, they take it from the other person. Not the tree. It is human nature to compete. We attack each other for being individuals so we respond as individuals. Our society ends up broken up into groups. White vs. Black. Gay vs. Straight. Men vs. Women. All looking to gain at the expense of another. This is partly by design. Those who want to hold on to power exploit our weaknesses and take advantage of them.
Perhaps there is something to be learned from trade unionism that we can use to save our society. That no matter who you are or where you come from, we are going to the next place together. We are all brothers and sisters in this union we call America.