What’s a Union For?

Source: Carla Murphy, Colorlines, April 16, 2014

Labor unions in the U.S. are at a crossroads and workers of color—particularly women, and immigrants— figure prominently in how well they move forward. Big labor, now down to representing only about one in every 10 American workers, knows this. But incorporating immigrants and non-union and unemployed workers will also mean addressing their community issues, too—like mass incarceration and immigration reform. And for many young workers facing a bleaker present and future than many current pensioners, advancing non-workplace issues affecting low-income and working class people of color makes the difference between joining up or observing from a distance. Some unions get that. And that’s all some young workers are demanding…. How unions use (or, don’t use) their organizing power was a key theme among young workers of color and young whites, too, at a recent Chicago labor conference attended by 3,000 rank-and-file members from around the country. In an era of cutbacks in jobs, public services, wages and, until recently, healthcare, a union’s willingness to represent the hard issues facing their generation and all working communities appears to matter even more. It is not enough to work for members’ on-the-job concerns, only….