The Electrical Worker online
February 2015

From the Officers
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The Good News

If all you saw were the front pages of the major papers or the first few minutes of the national newscasts, you'd probably end up pretty depressed these days. It is painful to see how many powerful positions in the U.S. are now filled by committed opponents of an economy that works for all of us.

But make no mistake: there is much more to the story. Last month, in this space, I went over some of our own highs and lows in 2014. Now I want to turn your attention to the good news coming from beyond our own membership.

The truth is, across this nation, workers are writing their own stories, taking control of their work lives and winning some inspiring victories. In 2014, the labor movement put the emphasis on movement again. We are reimagining ourselves, organizing in new ways, but just as powerfully, we are drawing inspiration from our past.

Organizing rights have been crippled by Congress and the courts over the last 40 years. Instead of fighting the same battles, some of the most successful organizing efforts took inspiration from the days before those rights were legally protected during the New Deal. It is too early to call it a success, but the UAW's resurrection of minority unions at Volkswagen, for example, has enormous potential.

So does the low-wage workers movement, which showed real power last year. It has not looked like traditional organizing, but that is why it may turn out to be its strength. By organizing communities, not just workers, wages have been raised — sometimes by law — and it has exposed the true cost of the low-wage business models used by some of the largest companies in the world.

There were some traditional victories too. Who wasn't moved when the NLRB tore away the fig leaf that football players at Northwestern University were student-athletes? If they do vote to unionize, how many other workers exploited by multi-billion dollar businesses might be inspired to follow? Multiple decisions in federal court against companies that misclassify full-time employees as contractors were also welcome news. And while it may seem like a small thing, the NLRB ruling that company email can be used for union activity knocks down one more hurdle to workplace democracy.

Taken together, these victories don't make up for the painful losses we suffered on the job and at the ballot. But they show that there is a way forward when we have the creativity to find new tools and the courage to use them.


Also: Chilia: Rebuilding America Read Chilia's Column

Edwin D. Hill

Edwin D. Hill
International President