There are many anti-unionists in the US today who hold several implicit assumptions about the nature of our country’s workers: The first is there are large numbers of lazy incompetent people in the workforce who undermine the effectiveness of the organizations they work for. The unions, in turn, prevent managers from firing these underserving individuals. The second is that all supervisors who are hired by corporations and/or state institutions, such as the police department and school districts, are honest and competent individuals who are capable of making unbiased assessments of the workers they oversee. Unfortunately, my experience as both a worker and a union activist has taught that a good many managers are anything but.
Although managers, administrators, supervisors, department chairs, or whatever you’d like to call them, can indeed be solid people who can supervise the workers in the organizations they work for in a fair and objective manner, I’ve also watched some of the not-so-good ones engage the following unjust practices: I’ve seen them refrain from following organizational rules designed to protect workers because they simply disagree with those rules. I’ve watched them hold different people to a different set of standards in their attempts to retain the incompetent employees that they favor and fire the hard working individuals whom they loath. I’ve witnessed them skirting administrative statutes so they can hire friends or the family members of favored colleagues. I’ve also seen them abuse their employees both verbally and physically. So to put it bluntly, a substantial number of supervisors are plainly incapable of performing their managerial duties in a skilled and principled manner.
As most people need their jobs to merely subsist – that is purchase food, clothing, shelter and medical care they need to merely survive, – having the ability to hold onto a job that pays them a living wage is vital. But because many working environments are rife with inequities and hostility, it is essential for workers have access to groups that will advocate for them. As I’ve progressed through my working life, I’ve held both union and non-union jobs and the union jobs have always won out in terms of the pay and benefits I receive. What’s more, these union jobs have provided my colleagues and me with a powerful form of recourse should we be treated unfairly.
Unfortunately, many ordinary citizens fail to see the big picture, and they buy into the rhetoric put forth by the conservative politicians, conservative foundation leaders and the moneyed industrialists — people who all have the money and power to disseminate their ideas through a vast array of media outlets. But in doing so, these hardworking Americans are supporting ideas that will, in the long run, undermine their pay, their benefits, the quality of their working life, and their overall ability to hold onto their jobs. I sincerely hope that many of these individuals will come to see the light and support unions. This serve to strengthen our dwindling and beleaguered middle class.
Kristyan Kouri teaches sociology and gender & women’s studies at Cal State University, Northridge.