Apr 24, 2013

On Why Unions Matter, and the Gall of Considering a New American Dream

Does your work make your life better?

Note: I wrote this on February 27, 2011 for a different blog I had started (and posted to all of two times) on work and worth. While I didn't continue on with that blog, I wanted to share those two posts with you, dear reader. Here's the first one. Though the current events mentioned are now dated, the message still holds true and shouldn't be forgotten. I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

“We don’t want a bigger piece of the pie. 
We want a different pie.”
~Winona LaDuke
As I sit here tonight, Wisconsin’s governor is fighting to hand the power of the workers over to the will of the rich. The face of labor rights will be changed indefinitely if he wins, and I find myself feeling both enraged and helpless, a volatile combination that only ends in despair.
I am not a union worker, but I support their rights with every fiber of my being. Their rights are my rights, and yours. Take away the bargaining power of the union, and you take away the rights of every single working American. If you think that unions have done nothing for you, check your history book. And then imagine what your life would be like without the 40-hour work week, weekends, vacation time, a minimum wage law, and benefits.
Beyond that, without collective bargaining power (essentially a worker’s voice at the wage and benefits table) the worth of a worker would be determined by an employer alone. Unions fight for fair wages, and those wages set industry salary standards that impact the paycheck of every one of us. In this time of cutting expenses, and of high unemployment, and when what you make might barely cover your bills, aren’t you glad that your worth won’t simply be devalued because a company doesn’t want to spend its profits on its workers? Government union-busting takes away what little voice workers have in the world of labor, and it’s just not right.
And still…working within the money-centered system that has been created for us hasn’t gotten me anywhere. I’m not happier, and I’m not richer. As a matter of fact, I can barely pay my bills, and I’m still doing better than half the people I know.
But as I sit here in my swan dive toward despair, I am reminded that it doesn’t have to be like this. Making a living implies more than simply making money, and certainly more than selling our hours for just enough to keep us from drowning in debt. There are many, many people out there who have eschewed the social norms presented to us and ventured out on their own, to build the life they want, and do the work that they enjoy. Some of them make things by hand (etsy.com is a testament to the real possibilities of “making” a living). Some folks barter for much of what they need. Some folks need much less than the television would have you believe. Some place more worth on relationships than stuff. There are a lot of options out there.
And we can choose any of these paths, or any others we can think of, because this is America. If I don’t want to participate in the American Dream as currently defined, I can create a new one, with my own rules and values and dreams.
I think I’m going to explore what that might look like.
Take that, despair.

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