Learning What Unions Have to Teach

Learning What Unions Have to Teach

In a lot of the talk about attacks on labor, the focus has been on electoral politics and cash. But doing away with unions does away with one of the only forms of popular education we have. It’s person-to-person education that will save us. Organizing. And we need the unions for that.

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In a lot of the talk about attacks on labor, the focus has been on electoral politics and cash. Defunding unions will defund the Democratic party and progressive candidates who might fight for working folks.

But Jane McAlevey made the point in a recent issue of this magazine that doing away with unions does away with one of the only forms of popular education we have. It’s not just the organized schoolteachers that teach—unions have a long history as face-to-face educators, keeping history and even songs alive, passing them generation to generation.

And it’s not just history. In 2008, when the question on everyone’s lips was “Will working-class white voters pull the lever for a black man?” the voice that answered that question wasn’t in the mass media. It was Richard Trumka, whose powerful words to the United Steelworkers convention might not have been celebrated the way Obama’s “race speech” was, but combined with groundwork by union organizers, helped tip the balance for the Democrats.

It’s no surprise, then, that the right is going after unions in the states where unions helped fight ignorance and fear.

What happens without unions? We’ve seen what damage Fox can do, and the Tea Party may seem quiet now as pro-labor, anti-bankster protest swells, but they’ve not stopped organizing—a group in Queens, New York, just held its opening meeting last night.

We can’t count on mass media to do our education for us. Those of us in the independent media do what we can, but we still scramble for funds while the behemoths merge and tighten their grip. No wonder they love the Tea Party—they certainly don’t want regulation of their own power.

No, until we have some Murdochs on our side, it’s person-to-person education that will save us. Organizing. And we need the unions for that.

The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv and editor of At The Tea Party, out now from OR Books. GRITtv broadcasts weekdays on DISH Network and DIRECTv, on cable, and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter and be our friend on Facebook.

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