Friday, September 14, 2012

#13 The Union

   The alliances we choose in our workplace can make the difference between feeling fulfilled or empty during your career. Teachers have two basic choices, the employer or the union. The employer represents the public and the union represents the employees.  I don't like the fact that we need a union, but  have learned to accept their significance in maintaining a healthy relationship within the workplace. Consequently, a teacher's best alliance is a committed partnership with their union.

    In a general sense, labour unions are a product of a very complex relationship between the very wealthy, the government, and workers. These groups have two main goals, money and power. Unfortunately, in the quest for attaining these targets, fair treatment of workers often gets pushed aside.  So, a collective body needs to keep this idea on the table and the union tries to accomplish this task.

    Often wealthy corporations are unjustly painted as faceless beasts possessed with an insatiable appetite for profits.  But, the depiction rarely mentions the fact that the faceless logos are owned and operated by people; they are called shareholders. The vocabulary of these people is very simple, ‘growth’, and 'wealth’ preceded with one word, more. The biggest hurdle they face in their need to create more wealth is cheap labour.

     The largest group of workers hired by the wealthy come from the various levels of the middle income workers. They have been conditioned to think of ways to shed wealth, not create it. It is not unusual for members of the middle classes to live a life of working to spend, and usually in an effort to appear wealthier than their neighbour. For many, it becomes a vicious cycle of economic servitude, a lifestyle encouraged by their wealthy partners.

    So, how are workers convinced that their need for more spending power is subordinate to the need for growth and profits? The wealthy are pretty good at using corporate advertising to convince the middle classes that their wants are needs, but their other asset is elected officials.  The workers trust politicians as a life line to the wealthy.

   Politicians are willingly trapped in the middle of a relationship between wealthy and the workers. For example, the wealthy promise to provide jobs for the compliant government, and in turn, the elected officials see an opportunity to provide more services for the public and get reelected. Their greatest hurdle is to convince the employees that the behaviour of the rich is justified because they create jobs.    

   So, where do labour unions fit into this mix? When isolated, workers are always vulnerable to abuse by the wealthy and governments. They need something to represent their realities to the economic and political partners, and labour unions are the alliance workers use to accomplish this goal.
   For example, when a worker becomes, pregnant, she is no longer just a worker, she is a person trying to support a new lifestyle with her job.  There was a time not long ago when someone in her situation would be fired by an employer.  When important events such as: pregnancy, illness, death enter into a workers life, everything takes on a new dimension. The dynamic of the relationship between the employer and the worker changes.

   Workers have always been stuck in the middle of a dynamic set up by the wealthy and their political partners.  Labour unions maintain a balance, they have won workers rights such as: maternity leave, sick leave, pensions, paid holidays, pay raises, seniority rights, insurance plans, overtime pay, unemployment benefits and job security to name a few. These would not have been afforded to them by governments, but rather have been fought for through labour unions.

    I don’t like being on strike (I’ve been twice) or the labour action rallies, the politics, the disruption to my personal and work life, the managers who repeatedly cross the contract lines, the bloated nature of some of the union representatives or even union dues, but they are part of the job when you enter into a teaching career. If you are a worker and need to choose a friend, aline yourself with union.