Media Center

Union Citizenship

Our history is a mystery – maybe to most union members. As Fox and other comedy channels push anti-union rhetoric, some union members may wonder why they are members.

So many times I’ve read a letter or taken a phone call that begins, “I’m a dues paying member....”

This is like our citizenship. There was once a class in high school called “Citizenship.” But over the last 40 years citizens have been redefined as TAXPAYERS (emphasis from the corporate propagandizers).

Yes, we pay taxes, but the whole enterprise of government is directed toward pulling together common wealth to serve our mutual needs. More on this another time.

As Union members we have an organization that works for our mutual good. To fund it, we pay dues. But that is where union membership begins – not where it ends.

We also need to come to meetings, voice our opinion, volunteer when the Union needs us. Simply paying dues doesn’t cut it. I think when members describe themselves as “dues paying members” they diminish themselves. We are so much more than taxpayers and dues payers.

I recently heard a local president address her members at a union meeting telling them:

“You’re sitting in a lunchroom and listening to a member run the Union down. You stay out of the conversation because you think you should mind your own business. The Union IS your business!” she said.

Yes it is.

If this Union goes away, our members’ wages will fall and working conditions will be totally up to the boss. The bosses are working hard to make that happen.

And in the U.S. there is a free rider movement going on. It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a Trojan horse designed to destroy workers’ power called “Right to Work.”

It’s an attempt to break workers’ chance to ever climb out of poverty and have good pay for a fair days work. They are doing it by trying to break up the “union shop.”

In the 25 right-to-work states workers get union benefits without paying union dues. That means they live off the dues paid by union members where they work. But more than that (and this is why the rich and corporations fight for a dues-free environment) it means that unions (working people) are limited in their power to fight for and defend workers.

Want a raise? Make your union powerful.

Want better health care? Make your union powerful.

Want to put you kids through college? Make your union powerful.

But in the world in which we live, it’s clear that while paying dues is a start, we need to do a lot more. We need to have influence in our communities, with our neighbors and with our riders.

In the next 14 months Canadian and U.S. voters will go to the polls to elect our future leaders. To change our countries, we need serious, radical change. We can’t get that by sucking up the same old rhetoric from the press or politicians. We need to carve out a different path – one that gets us back on track as societies that value work and reward sacrifice.

Social security, Medicare, and minimum wages were passed during times in our history when unions were strong. Pensions, health care and decent wages were products of strong unions – not strong corporations. Dues helped, but action by serious working people is what made the difference.

It wasn’t suits and ties that got good contracts; it was picket lines and strikes.

It was the unity of millions of workers saying, “We want a fair share of what we produce with our work!” that made it happen.
If you make your history less of a mystery, you will become more than a “dues paying member….”