• authored by Members for Democracy
  • published Sat, Oct 20, 2001

Knowledge is Power - Interaction is Action

A while back when we decided to expand the focus of our web site from UFCW-reform to union reform within the broader community of workers (or as we refer to it - the Power Source), we set about developing a site that would provide our community with a wide range of information as well as a venue where union reformers could interact directly with each other to exchange news, information and ideas. Our belief is that if the Power Source has information about what's going on and the ability to communicate directly with each other, the possibilities for union reform and for the future of unions - and workers - are limitless. Developing a web site that can serve these dual but related purposes is our contribution to helping the Power Source take control of its power.

You'll notice that we posted one of our first non-UFCW news items this week - this one about HERE Local 54 in New Jersey where union reformers were able to successfully overturn the results of a 1999 executive board election (see Court Overturns Local Union Election in the archives). The tactics used by the Local 54 e-board incumbents sound all too familiar. Too bad the U.S. legislation under which the reformers were able to have the election results overturned doesn't exist here in Canada. Presumably, that is because nothing bad ever happens here. You've got to wonder why we even have a Criminal Code. Nonetheless, it's encouraging to hear of reformer victories - they are an inspiration. Knowing that you are not alone and that others are fighting the same battles - and even winning on occasion - can play an important role in the process of becoming empowered. We can help each other by sharing our news - by being our own media.

Be the Media

We would like to hear from all of you reformers out there. You don't have to be part of a formal reform group - if you care about workers and want unions that do a good job for them, you're a reformer. That's all it takes and that means that there are an awful lot of you out there. You need to communicate with each other and let others know what you're doing. We can help you do this. Tell us: What are you up to? What's going on with your union? If you're doing anything that involves finding out about or challenging a corrupt, unresponsive or plain old out of touch union bureaucracy, then you've got news and we want you to share it.

Just because the mainstream media doesn't cover union reform issues doesn't mean they aren't real issues. Big media are mostly clued out when it comes to unions and union reform. The good news is that we no longer need to rely on the corporate news empires to spread the word about what we're doing. We can do it ourselves - here, online. This is not an off the wall concept. There are a lot of alternative (or independent) media sources out there today - and a lot on line. This site is an example; These guys cover a wide range of subjects of interest to the activist community. This is the web site of a Toronto alternative weekly called Now. When they first started out, the mainstream gave them about six months to live. That was twenty years ago. The mainstream media do not acknowledge independent media - why would they? But it exists - and is growing. We are also independent media, only with a union reform focus. Our site provides you with a means to get your news out there - for the benefit of your supporters, other union reformers and the big community of workers. So let's have it...tell us what's going on where you are. (See our submission guidelines for more info.) As Noam Chomsky says:

Being alone, you can't do anything. All you can do is deplore the situation. But if you join with other people, you can make changes. Millions of things are possible, depending on where you want to put your efforts.

Keeping you informed

As part of our ongoing efforts to provide information, we posted a number of information pieces this week including - gasp! - an explanation of the process involved in changing unions. We posted this piece because in a free and democratic society, people have choices and should be able to exercise those choices without a bunch of self-interested pompous asses telling them they can't. Workers have the right to join the union of their choice. Nowhere does it say this applies one-time-only. Enough of this "raiding" crap already. It's wearing pretty thin. Raiding is only a label used to put a negative spin on a concept the labour elite doesn't like. It also has a real turf acquisition and turf protection connotation and that's really inappropriate - workers are not your turf, mainstream guys. Changing unions isn't about "raiding". It's about "workers' choices" and that's what we're calling it. It's quite likely that within a short while the raiding thing is going to fade from the screen. Workers will simply reject it. Those who aren't satisfied with the unions they have will join other unions or create new unions.

New Unions?

The idea of the Power Source forming new unions or new kinds of unions is one that will surely be scoffed at by the mainstream labour elite; however, it is an entirely plausible notion. A whole lot of things are changing all around us, thanks to the rapid advance of technology - especially the World Wide Web. The web not only provides us with access to goods, services and information, it's changing the way we relate to each other by making direct communication among large numbers of like-minded people something that can happen wherever, whenever and however often we want. We have the ability now to interact as never before. It's only a matter of time before the disconnected begin to connect. If their unions aren't serving them well and the alternatives don't look much better, it's going to happen.

Earlier this week, someone made mention in the forum of Al Toffler's book, The Third Wave. Toffler is a futurist who's written a number of insightful books about what lies ahead for the human race. His theory, generally, is that we are at the end of what he refers to as the second wave of civilization - the great industrial age that began about 300 years ago. We are entering the 3rd wave - a knowledge and information-based society. This shift Toffler believes is fundamentally changing the way we live on every level - economic, social, political. Among his predictions is that the quantum leaps occurring in the area of technology will change and maybe even diminish the role of big institutions (government, business, unions) in favour of more direct democracy (have a look at this site for some info about how the web can help us build more democratic societies). Our big institutions existed mainly to serve the powerful elites of the industrial age. Now that that is fading, so is their relevance. We've talked about the whole new wave phenomenon a little in one of our articles. If you've ever wondered why the big institutions seem so could be because the Third Wave is here. The mega-institutions are no longer effective because they do not fit a world that has changed in fundamental ways.

How is this relevant for union reformers? Our mainstream unions are industrial age institutions. They're not working very well - look at their service industry track record. As we think about the unions of the future and what they may be like, we need to be mindful that a lot of the conventional wisdom about unions is the conventional wisdom of unions of the industrial age. It may no longer be relevant so we should not feel that we are married to it - we can and we should look at alternatives. We need to ask ourselves are concepts like "jurisdiction" and "raiding" relevant anymore? Why can workers only be union members when they are somebody's employee? Why can't workers belong to more than one union? What about portable union membership? What would the structure of a member-driven union look like? Will we need unions in the future? Yes, as long as there is a power imbalance in the workplace, it would seem that workers would benefit from representation and collective action. Will the unions of the future look like the turf-obsessed monoliths of today? Probably not. Reformers need to think about alternative organizations, alternative union governance models, and alternative ways of organizing, servicing and representing members. The 20th century turf-oriented model has not served workers well - especially in the service industry. If alternatives need to be considered anywhere, the service industry may be a good starting point. The point was made in our forum that the mega-unions have failed so miserably in the service industry that the hole seems to deep for them to ever dig themselves out. Will there be new unions in the future? What do you think? Here's what some reformers were saying earlier in the week.

Going back to where we started, communication and the exchange of ideas among reformers is very important. It is a source of empowerment and of the ideas that will shape the coming wave of civilization. The last two were especially bad for workers. This one holds out promise because we are in a position to participate in its evolution. . Getting connected is the first step. Here's something else from Chomsky that lays it out well.

" be effective, democracy requires that people feel a connection to their fellow citizens, and that this connection manifests itself though a variety of nonmarket organizations and institutions. A vibrant political culture needs community groups, libraries, public schools, neighborhood organizations, cooperatives, public meeting places, voluntary associations, and trade unions to provide ways for citizens to meet, communicate, and interact with their fellow citizens. Neoliberal democracy, with its notion of the market uber alles, takes dead aim at this sector. Instead of citizens, it produces consumers. Instead of communities, it produces shopping malls. The net result is an atomized society of disengaged individuals who feel demoralized and socially powerless.

All this talk about change can be scary but when we think about it, for a lot of union members, nothing can be scarier than the present. Here are some examples of why that is.

This Week's Ick-Picks

These are some examples of biz unions at their best, noted in our forum this past week. Each one makes us cringe - so we call them Ick Picks:

A union of whose choice: Remember Web Galaxy? The Internet service provider that UFCW pension plan money built. Check out this thread to see how its principals hang on to their union clients - by helping fund their election campaigns. Is it right that members running for union office have to compete with their biz-union's favoured sons, who are funded by a business - with money that, indirectly at least, comes from their own pension plan? Worse than ick.Our contracts stink but our sales displays are fabulous: For a sense of just how far the biz unions have gone in their efforts to emulate corporate America, check out the glossy glitzy convention displays at the same thread. Notice the Voice of Working America awash in fireworks - too bad it's not setting its members' world on fire. Ick.

"Team Biz Union" strikes out again: Speaking of glossy sales material, give this a look; "Team Supervalu" is what UFCW organizers call UFCW members whose pics are used in a campaign for Biggs stores. Now, we have to ask: Why would you give the employer such prominent placement in your union organizing material? And what's up with this "team" crap? That's straight out of those "orientation to your minimum wage service job" handbooks. Double ick.

Wanted - A Few Good Gophers: What do UFCW Executive Assistants do? That question came up in the forum this week and the answers are...well, too icky to repeat. Go see for yourselves.

Coming up this week at MFD: More in the Swiss Chalet Workers' story and an up close and personal look inside the machine.

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