Readjusting the labor movement’s focus for the future

manufacturing_collageIn this election year of 2016, political candidates galore have given us lengthy speeches and diatribes about how American jobs should come back to these shores, and have lamented the economic reality that manufacturing is being outsourced to China, India, and Mexico and other countries around the world. They are correct, but this way of thinking has little to do with resurrecting the piece of economic pie that manufacturing  holds in the economy, and much more to do with nostalgia.

The Halcyon days of the post-World War II era  are the inspiration for many of these beliefs, that manufacturing is the key to entering the middle class, attaining the American dream, and resurrecting American economic prosperity. However, the key to a prosperous future lies not solely in manufacturing. This is the key error many of our policymakers seem to make.The economic realities of 2016 are not the same as those of 60 years ago. The reality is, America is more service-oriented than ever.

What truly brought the middle class stability that many politicians talk about seeking to resurrect, are unions. It was unions that fought for higher pay, benefits, breaks, and the five day week that made manufacturing prosperous in the first place. Automation in the form of the assembly line increased the pace of production, and made the industry what it is today. Union membership percentage nationwide was at its highest in 1954 at 35%.  Ten years later, union membership had grown numerically, but the percentage of the population was slightly less. Many families grew up with a union worker in the household or knowing someone who was a union worker. In 1964 in Virginia, for example, even in a state not particularly friendly to unions, 15.8% of the workforce was unionized. In 2014, 50 years later, it was at 4.5%. In North Carolina in 2014, it was 2%. (According for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015, it increased to 3% in our state) Labor union membership has dwindled, and now even faces a demographic crisis, where most union members are 40 and older, and fewer younger workers are interested in joining a union. Strangely enough, conditions in the workplace have steadily declined over the years, leaving one to wonder why more young people don’t see unions as appealing options.Wages have been stagnant for thirty years, benefits are decreasing in scope (if one receives any at all) and part-time jobs and temp agencies have exploded instead of full-time work because some employers refuse to pay benefits. It only seems natural that they should seek out such an option. More young workers are entering the blue collar trades than ever before, so it should be a priority for us to bring them into the union fold.

We cannot time travel back to when unions were strong and manufacturing was the country’s backbone. Instead, what needs to happen is to adjust our sensibilities to fit that of the 21st century economy. Manufacturing is strong and vibrant, but the labor movement needs to renew a focus on organizing those in the service industry, the tech industry, healthcare, and those working on emerging technologies. These areas are where most job growth in the near future will be.  If we are going to prosper like many politicians claim we should, we have to adjust where our focus lies for the future.

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Living up to our Constitutional “Objects”


IBEW Local 553 will be releasing a series of articles here on our website where we will discuss the objects of the IBEW constitution and how they relate to the values we hold as both a labor union and as individuals in our own lives. We should always and consistently ask ourselves, “Am I abiding by the IBEW constitution? Am I behaving and believing like a person with a union mind, heart, and soul?”

The first main object of the IBEW, according to our constitution is “To organize all workers in the entire electrical industry in the US and Canada, including all those in public utilities and electrical manufacturing, into local unions,” This means that we provide representation for ALL electricians, regardless of membership status.

Whenever an electrician or aspiring electrician enters the doors of our hall, whether he is union or nonunion, he will be heard and be treated with  respect. The entire goal of our Union, and the labor movement in general, is to ensure that all workers are given the wage they deserve, have secure retirement benefits in an age where benefits are decreasing or in some cases, are non-existent, and be rewarded for all of the hard work they do day in and day out. This is what the IBEW, and every other labor union, strives to turn into reality.

In our particular part of the country, Unions are not as powerful and do not always have an equal seat at the bargaining table due to right-to-work laws. North Carolina has one of the lowest percentages of unionized workers in the nation at 3.2 percent. Union membership, not just in our state, but around the country, has decreased at a time of stagnant wages, reduced benefits, and more people working part time just to pay their bills, let alone have a gateway to a solid middle-class lifestyle.

It was labor unions and their hard-fought tenacity, bravery, and strength that enabled the 20th century rise of the middle class, and the beginning of the American dream. Never before had upward class mobility been so possible. At the peak of union membership in the 1950s, wages were high, consumer spending was up, and the American economy was booming with plenty of profit left for the private sector. Thus, in an era where union power has been whittled away and workers are left to fend for themselves more than ever, we see it as a necessity that as many workers as possible are represented to bring our country back to prosperity, and that we live up to the objects of our constitution in the process.

Tim Kaine or Mike Pence- which VP really stands with Union workers?


Republican VP nominee Mike Pence, Left, and Democratic VP nominee Tim Kaine, Right

In recent days, Democratic nominee for President, Hillary Clinton, has rolled out her pick for the Vice Presidential nominee, Tim Kaine. Kaine is a Democratic senator, former governor, and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee from Virginia. As Hillary portrays herself as progressive, Kaine appeals to political moderates, independents, and more conservative members of the Democratic party.  Tim Kaine’s senate voting record was rated highly by the AFL-CIO. Kaine has endorsed many parts of Hillary’s platform, but also had some shaky points in his dealings with organized labor in the past. However, Kaine is markedly more friendly to labor than the Republican choice for VP, Mike Pence.

Kaine is well-regarded amongst fellow Democrats. He has worked with the American Civil Liberties Union, has advocated in favor of human rights across the globe, and been a reliable member of the Democratic caucus since his election in 2012.  However, In his dealings with labor, his outlook has not always been as positive. Kaine has argued  in favor of the TPP, a trade deal which could cost the US union workers thousands of jobs to other nations, a stance he has reversed. Kaine also defended Virginia’s right-to-work laws as governor, saying that the legislation was something “I strongly support”. However, his stance has softened on right-to-work laws since his tenure as Governor more than a decade ago. Five years ago, as chairman of the DNC, he met with union leaders in Wisconsin and has since shown more interest in working with labor unions. He has also endorsed his party’s platform for the 2016 election, indicating that his stance on some labor issues has shifted.

In contrast to Kaine, Donald Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, governor of Indiana and former congressman, is notorious for his anti-labor politics. Interestingly enough, Trump has sought to court disgruntled union workers to his platform, but the addition of Pence complicates things for the billionaire businessman. For one, Pence, has expressed support for the TPP, and Pence has not changed his stance on the deal, unlike Kaine. (Interestingly enough, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have expressed a negative opinion of the TPP.) Pence also voted, while a member of Congress in 2007, for a bill that limited the minimum wage to 5.15 per hour, and resisted any increase during any of his terms in Congress. Pence has signed a bill as Governor of Indiana that limited his state to the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hr, and limits Indiana towns and cities from setting the minimum wage any higher. Pence also voted against the Employee Free Choice act in 2009, which would have made it easier for unions to organize workers of non-union companies. Pence has also vigorously defended right-to-work laws.

Unlike his rival, who has opened his mind about unions and the working man, Pence remains unrepentant and continues to favor the politics of the 1% and not the American worker. While Tim Kaine is by no means perfect, Mike Pence is even worse for working families. We encourage all our union members to vote, and to make an informed and educated choice in who we elect to lead our nation this November.

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