Throughout the labor movement, unionists are writing, posting, blogging, and otherwise taking on the problem of declining union membership: thinking about how to make unions more open and appealing, for union members and nonmembers alike. These writers, who include union leaders, rank and filers, pro-union academics, and insurgent reformers, have one thing in common: they realize that it’s time for labor leaders to change the way they relate to their membership.
Larry Katz, former Research Director of the Canadian Union of Public Employees writes in the prominent Canadian labor journal Our Times:
- “All unions ... need to decide if they see the need for change, are open to change, believe in social unionism, and can be counted upon to try and implement the democratic changes ultimately decided upon. ... Labour will need to ... supplement and ... move beyond the ritualized forums and archaic processes and language now used for making decisions. While a culture of inclusiveness, openness and shared vulnerability may seem like an abstract concept, ... without it, all references about involving the membership, organizing, policy development, political action, and service changes will have a limited impact.”
Dustin Teske, an OPEIU steward and creator of the Union Guide website, writes:
- “Union leaders must ensure that they utilize member dues in a responsible and effective manner. They need to create, maintain and advertise ... supporting initiatives that grow union membership. ... Union leaders must encourage and support their members in public exhibitions of their collective support or dissatisfaction of proposed legislation or current laws which may be beneficial or adversely affect workers.”
Johnny, aka “The Man in Black,” the effective IUOE reformer writes:
- “Brothers and Sisters, several of our colleagues from across this great nation have stepped up to the plate and joined The Resistance nationwide! They have started their own Man in Black caucuses from coast to coast and together we have started a grassroots communication line to overturn the tyranny and oppression visited on our members by our Locals, our International and the powers that be! We have determined that we are the 99%! That we, THE MEMBERSHIP are the ones who should control OUR UNIONS. ... we WILL NOT STOP until our voices are heard!”
Labor Historian Nelson Lichtenstein in “Can Unions Survive?” holds out hope that the democratic Left can protect and defend trade unionism, and at the same time promote a just society; he writes that with labor on the defensive, the Left needs to “offer the kind of visions that once seemed on our agenda ... there is a huge vacuum that the activist Left can fill.”
Danny Mitchell, a retired IBEW activist, suggests that it is from within the union that reinvigoration could have and perhaps still can come, but that construction unions “spent decades clearing their union hall of rank and file activists … Their ability to organize has been so compromised by the corrupt practices … that all they can do with when faced with less members is to ‘double the dues.’ ”
From different angles and in different words, they are all saying, or trying to say, that rebuilding union power begins from within, that members must be convinced that union really belongs to them. As we at AUD put it clearly and plainly, “Union Democracy means a stronger labor movement.” And that’s what we’ve been saying -- and fighting for -- these last forty years.
Here are a few words from rank and file unionists who have reached AUD in the past months:
- As a member of a New York City union I've experienced some very difficult times with my union leadership, until the day I was introduced to the Association for Union Democracy. The organization is a not-for-profit that operates on a modest budget. Without its support I believe, in my case, justice may not have been served. I urge all who are seeking fairness in their unions to reach out and continue to support the Association for Union Democracy.
-- Kelvin McAllister, New York
- My husband is a retired union member from California. Every four years he is entitled to a certain amount from the union to help pay for new hearing aids. Because of a complicated claims snafu he had not gotten this money. We called AUD and quickly found not only an ally but a strong voice that wasted no time in getting the union’s attention. Thanks to AUD this claim was paid in short order. Thanks AUD!
-- Robin Tail
- When a member of a group is bullied and his rights trampled, that person can feel alone and isolated. You gave me hope and helped me to stand up against the members of my Association who threatened me with arrest if I attended association meetings. All members of unions and associations need to support AUD, to stand up to and control union bullies determined to take away union member rights.
-- Rob Pipersky, Montclair, CA
AUD depends upon you to keep up the good work. We hope you come through for us once again.