This week, my neighboring state of Indiana became a “Right to Work” state — which sounds oddly like it’s now a better place to work, rather than part of a larger, nation-wide effort to gut unions and strip away the rights that the labor movement has battled for decades to establish (and from which we all benefit, whether or not we are union members – as but one example: Planning to enjoy a two-day weekend this week? Thank a union).
Are unions perfect vessels of workers’ better angels? No. Nothing humanity does is. But I figure unions are an awful lot like democracy: A terrible mess that is immeasurably better than anything else on offer.
My great-grandfather Carl (married to great-grandma Emily) was a union organizer in St. Cloud, Minnesota, and I have never felt anything but deepest pride in that fact. It breaks my heart that working men and women are having to fight so hard to hold on to, or entirely re-establish, the kinds of rights that I’m sure he wanted to see made permanent — such as the simple right to organize, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 23, sec 4).
And so, given the ongoing assault on workers’ rights (Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio, anyone?), it’s time to allow my beloved Billy Bragg to be his most rabble-rousing socialist self, and remind us that there is, indeed, power in a union.
Which is precisely why the right doesn’t want unions to survive.
Now I long for the morning that they realise
Brutality and unjust laws can not defeat us
But who’ll defend the workers who cannot organise
When the bosses send their lackies out to cheat us?
Money speaks for money, the Devil for his own
Who comes to speak for the skin and the bone
What a comfort to the widow, a light to the child
There is power in a Union.