Growing up, I can remember seeing Norma Rae and trying to understand what unions did for their members. I also remember hearing about the benefits of the collective voice and wondering how my self-employed father could get those benefits. I grew up knowing what the acronyms SAG and UAW meant and who the Teamsters were. I remember thinking of how great it must be to be part of a group that worked with the company to make sure that working conditions were kept up in order to maintain employee satisfaction and therefore profitability and productivity.
When did all that change? When did being a member of a Union change into something that needs to be kept hidden?
At the risk of being labeled a Marxist, its pretty easy to point a finger at Big Business/Republicans and say that the money hungry bourgeois have spread their propaganda against the tools available to the working class designed to bring a modicum of comfort and peace of mind. When you strip away the rhetoric, who really benefits from vilifying organized labor?
Organized Labor stems from the needs of the workers to unite in collective action to secure fair and equitable wages and working conditions. To achieve this, a balance of the decision making "power" in the workplace had to be forged. Through decades of negotiations and concessions, contracts and agreements were hammered out giving the workers leverage and a voice in the operations of the workplace.
Within the last 30 years, union membership in our United States has seen a significant drop. This link shows a more linear decline from 1948 to 2004 with a steep turn in the decade between 1974 and 1984. There are multitudes of theories bandied about that ascribe reasons for this shift. Market globalization, the crash of the auto industry and the increase in resistance on the part of corporate management being the most prominent.
There is still one unshakable fact that this Organizer can't get past. The reasons for labor organization haven't changed because the desire to make money hasn't changed. The entertainment industry will remain because people want to go to the movies and turn on their televisions to be amused; and are willing to pay for it. That money then gets distributed back to the people who sat in their seats to: write the story, draw the character, model the cast, paint the textures .. among the other tasks it takes to get the production done. These artists will consistently be the ones who will be asked to sacrifice in order for the companies/producers to get more for their buck.
And therein lies the struggle. So, no matter how many websites are built by mischievous organizations aimed at disseminating false and scandalous information about Labor Organizations, the need for worker protection against wage and workplace violations will still exist. Our vigilance and contractual protection, matched with a seamless cloak of health and pension benefits across the industry, remains the strongest option for the artist who just wants to exercise their skills and enjoy a long and prosperous life.