On the other side, I have heard UUs talking negatively about unions. I've heard some call the UUMA a union with a negative tone--mostly because of the same reasons corporations are against unions--it costs more when we're organized. This despite the truth of the comment Amy Zucker Morgenstern wrote in the comments on Dan's post saying, "I don’t think of the UUMA as a union. It doesn’t, for example, press us to refuse positions that are below fair compensation; we can undercut each other all we want." Too true.
But rather than debate whether we do or don't support unions as a movement, let me write about what I think about unions.
Professor and theologian Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite nailed it when she wrote:
The rights of workers to join together and bargain collectively for better wages and working conditions is not just a civil right, it is a fundamental way we recognize that human beings have an inherent dignity and worth. This idea, that human dignity, what Christians call "the image of God," is what connects Christian moral reasoning and action for worker rights in the Social Gospel, the Civil Rights movement, in the Solidarity movement in Poland as seen in the work of John Paul II, and now, I believe, in a reawakened American labor movement.Read the whole article. It's an important one. And I think James Ford was right on in blaming a me-first culture for what we're seeing now from the Republicans and the amount of popular support for their position.
Over and over again, we hear arguments from the right which say, "People in unions are making more than their non-unionized counterparts. This is unfair and needs to stop." And people are buying into this ridiculous argument because of a deep individualism and selfishness that resents anybody who gets more than they do. The better response to this argument would be to say, "Yes, people in unions are getting more out of the corporations and governments than their non-union counterparts. This shows the power in collective bargaining. Rather than tear that down, let's find ways to support and grow unions so that all workers can get these benefits." How did the American people become convinced that it's in their interests to keep people from making a living wage? How did we lose sight of the fact that the unions brought us the 40-hour work week, the vacation time and benefits we have, and the minimum wage?
Yes, people in unions have better health insurance packages than most of the rest of us. That's great for them. How can we expand that model? Too many people are crushed by health care debt, and now we want to increase that number? Amazingly, the unions, with their currently good health care, advocated for health care reform, even though they were not the ones needing it. They understand, in unions, that we're all related, that we need to care about each other, that the rising tide does lift all boats, that it takes many drops to turn a mill, singly none. And we repay them by wanting to limit their benefits more, and take away the right to collectively bargain?
Americans need to wake up to what's being done in the name of budget emergencies and realize that it's a red herring thrown out there to tear down their rights, strip them of wages and benefits, and put more in the pockets of those who already have the most. The budget emergency in Wisconsin, it's been shown, was created for just this purpose by taking a surplus budget and cutting corporate taxes and money coming in from the rich until a deficit resulted which then could be used to cut down the workers.
Thistlethwaite writes, "We need a new American populism that will fight for the rights of workers in this country as they are threatened yet again." If our right to collective bargaining is stripped from us, we need to take this battle to the streets until we gain it back. Bravo to my colleagues and friends in the streets of Madison. I know that some Unitarian Universalists are with you in person and many more are with you in spirit. This is the heart of our principles, the inherent worth and dignity of every person, at stake.