Union Sympathy

So with all the back-and-forths up at UBC, relating to the TA (and now spread) strike, I’ve been thinking about my own union sympathies, and where they come from (Actually, it’s the amazingly cogent discussion on [dim-sum], not normally a source for enlightened thought that has led me to this).

I have some true-blue roots, as it were, but fairly well buried back a generation: My paternal grandfather (I believe) was the shop steward for the Rolls Royce airplane engine plant leading up to (and after) World War II. My paternal grandmother was instrumental in women workers earning an equal wage for equal work during that time also: It was she who took ‘the test’ to prove that women could do the same work in the same time, to prove that they should get equal pay. She, of course, could do the work, and so the union could prove that they deserved equal pay.

Both my parents are academics,so not union (although Doctors have at least a professional association, the College of Physicians. My sister is also a doctor. My brother, who it must be said, I’ve long somewhat idolized, is also an academic. That being said, his work focus is in labour issues, particularly youth workers and unionization (to grossly simplify). So I read his papers, I’ve read his thesis (<— Shameless plug!), which has helped inform my opinion.

One last critical thing happened to form my default sympathies. In high school, I saw a hotel in Toronto advertising work for students, ‘no experience required!’. So wanting a summer job, I went down to apply. There were literally hundreds, if not thousands of kids, teens to early twenties, applying to work at this hotel (they promised good wages). So I filled out the application, and was selected for an interview. And what did they ask? ‘Would you be willing to cross a picket line to work as a replacement worker in the case of a strike?’. All they wanted was scab workers, because the unionized employees were about to go on strike. And they specifically targeted those who’d be likely to be so desperate for work that they would cross a picket line. I quickly informed the interviewer in no uncertain terms that I would not. In the quirky, agro way that I get sometimes, I shouted to all the other applicants in the hall that they were just looking for scabs. I was escorted out, and that was that.

Many unions are outdated, and are having a hard time adjusting to the modern workforce. Many are as bad for their members as non-union shops can be. Unions that have expanded into non-traditional industries, where careerism is not commonplace seem to have a really hard time figuring out how to work in such an environment. That being said, in the current economic environment, a union that can be flexible to learn the ‘new’ rules of work is an increasingly important entity. So as a result of this belief, as well as a deep-seated mistrust of authority, leads my default position to be union-sympathetic.

2 Replies to “Union Sympathy”

  1. I’m doing design work for a union right now, and I’m certainly learning lots about them. I have had a primer already, as Nicole’s been in about four of them, and was the VP of her local for a while.

    Am I union-sympathetic? Well, I kind of have it out for organized groups of all kinds right now, but at the same time I think that one’s working life is extremely important and that there should be all sorts of efforts put into making sure that the workplace is worthwhile.

    Certainly the role of unions have changed over history. From my understanding, they began because there were groups of highly skilled workers who were being paid like unskilled workers, and they banded together to bring prices for their services up, to get more respect from managment for their talents, and to make sure that people who entered their line of work had the high skills that deserved those prices.

    Now unions seem to be for any group of workers, regardless of job type or skill level (although I wouldn’t want to be the person to draw the line in the sand on that one!) Steve, I’m sure your brother would have something to say about that, studying what is certainly not one of the highest-skilled sectors I can think of (youth in food service).

    What my client said the other day that gave me some clarity is that the union was there to protect the employees from “arbitrary decisions”. That is, management shouldn’t be alowed complete freedom because there are people’s livelihoods at stake.

    Anyone who has worked in a company where you show up one day and everything has changed suddenly will appreciate that. (At the same time, anyone who has been a manager will know that sometimes quick changes in direction are called for.)

    So, I lean towards pro-union. I wonder how my opinion will change by the time this project is over?

    BTW, I’ve heard about some of the TA wages at UBC, and if I was a TA there, I would be on strike myself, probably.

  2. I’m doing design work for a union right now, and I’m certainly learning lots about them. I have had a primer already, as Nicole’s been in about four of them, and was the VP of her local for a while.

    Am I union-sympathetic? Well, I kind of have it out for organized groups of all kinds right now, but at the same time I think that one’s working life is extremely important and that there should be all sorts of efforts put into making sure that the workplace is worthwhile.

    Certainly the role of unions have changed over history. From my understanding, they began because there were groups of highly skilled workers who were being paid like unskilled workers, and they banded together to bring prices for their services up, to get more respect from managment for their talents, and to make sure that people who entered their line of work had the high skills that deserved those prices.

    Now unions seem to be for any group of workers, regardless of job type or skill level (although I wouldn’t want to be the person to draw the line in the sand on that one!) Steve, I’m sure your brother would have something to say about that, studying what is certainly not one of the highest-skilled sectors I can think of (youth in food service).

    What my client said the other day that gave me some clarity is that the union was there to protect the employees from “arbitrary decisions”. That is, management shouldn’t be alowed complete freedom because there are people’s livelihoods at stake.

    Anyone who has worked in a company where you show up one day and everything has changed suddenly will appreciate that. (At the same time, anyone who has been a manager will know that sometimes quick changes in direction are called for.)

    So, I lean towards pro-union. I wonder how my opinion will change by the time this project is over?

    BTW, I’ve heard about some of the TA wages at UBC, and if I was a TA there, I would be on strike myself, probably.

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