Make Unions Militant Again

Richard Cucarese

Richard Cucarese Rapid Response Coordinator, USW Local 4889

It’s never been glamorous to be a coal miner, truck driver, steelworker, waitress, janitor or the like, but over the past four decades, it’s been quite an effort to financially survive in these professions.

In earlier times, one way Americans could assuage the combative efforts of corporations that denied them the ability to enjoy a better life was to seek membership in a union, thus ensuring their chances for safer working conditions, better wages, benefits and rights through collective bargaining.

And while in many cases this created a rising, more affluent working class than America had ever witnessed, corporate America, with the assistance of Wall Street, Washington, their powerful lobby groups and certain members of the judiciary were setting the wheels in motion to crush labor’s strides with a tsunami of damaging legislation.

Think tanks were created and out of the bowels of back room meetings emerged The Powell Memo, the World Trade Organization, the insidious beginnings of free trade agreements and the crushing of collective bargaining under the guise of the falsely-friendly sounding Right-to-Work laws.

When the dust settled, labor’s grand accomplishments, which had once been a shining example of how democracy with a mixture of solid, progressive ideals could work, were left in tatters.

Factory towns and cities were left in ruins and their populations were left to fend for themselves under drastic cuts to the governments social safety net.  Former President Ronald Reagan with his vaunted “trickle down economics” spoke of a “frontiersman” approach as the new American standard.  It was every man for himself, community be damned.  

Presidents after Reagan were equally complicit in killing jobs with the aforementioned WTO, North American Free Trade Agreement, Korean Free Trade Agreement and Central American Free Trade Agreement, more draconian cuts to the social safety net, over fifteen years of never ending, financially bankrupting wars and now, as if to add insult to injury, the decimating, “I’ve got mine, the hell if you don’t have yours” mantra of the MAGA movement.

The champion of the proletariat, organized labor, was decimated bit by bit through repressive legislation.  It seemed we were left on a collision course returning to the lawless Robber Baron days of the early 20th Century. But can there be a shining light at the end of this dark tunnel?

In 2018, with labor’s membership substantially lower than its 30% height in the 1950s, it’s time to rise like the phoenix with a much more militant approach to attract young membership.  Millennials are absorbing a plethora of information and are very dissatisfied with both political parties’ stagnation. They are equally disheartened by the poor pay and worker mistreatment common at newer corporations such as Amazon and Tesla, and their modern breed of Robber Baron boss, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk

Labor must be visible and vigilant in attracting these young activists and workers.  We need to take a page from our early history and perform peaceful sit-ins, but also organize behemoths such as Amazon and Tesla with modern, social media blitzes, explaining how many young workers toil in abject poverty under sweatshop conditions, risking life and limb with dangerous line speed-ups and forced overtime while their capitalist oligarchs make billions.

We need to peacefully blockade bridges of cities, towns and if need be, State Capitals and our nation’s Capitol Rotunda until a real comprehensive, multi-trillion dollar infrastructure bill is passed, creating untold numbers of good paying, family sustaining jobs.  According to articles in The Nation, The Atlantic and others, our youth is ready to be organized by labor. They are ready to fight for good wages and stop Congress from consistently blocking efforts to keep our workplaces and environment safe.

The United Steelworkers’ Next Gen program could unite the millennial workforce with labor’s young leaders to begin a grassroots, radical Make Unions Militant Again (MUMA) movement. It’s labor’s chance to again carry the torch for fair treatment and justice.

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You can contact Richard on Twitter @stlwrkr4889.

Posted In: Union Matters

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