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Unions in the News

Posted: 10/09/2012 5:02 pm

The end of last month brought the end to a national crisis. The crisis, of course, was the NFL referee lockout, and it produced some of the most outspoken outrage from the public and the media we've seen in years. Everyone was upset; fans grew weary of bad calls, and the rest of America grew weary of hearing and reading about it. But now that the real refs have gone back to work, perhaps we can reflect on what exactly this crisis tells us about ourselves.

The overlapping timing of the NFL ref lockout and the Chicago teachers' strike make the two ripe for comparison. And while many of us feel something akin to disgust with the outcry over the NFL lockout and the lack thereof over the Chicago teachers strike, enough has been said elsewhere on that subject. Perhaps it is more important not to focus on the differing magnitudes of our reactions, but our reactions themselves.

As the NFL season started, it quickly became clear that the "replacement"(the term among union members is scabs) refs were not up to the task set before them. And we got mad. But our anger was not directed at the party responsible for the lockout; instead, we yelled at the replacement refs to open their damn eyes! We didn't yell at the NFL, who locked the union refs out in the first place. It was those incompetent replacement refs.

The Chicago teachers' strike was a different story. Many supported the teachers, and many didn't. One man even went so far as to mock-crucify his granddaughter in protest of the strike. While some Americans didn't really care one way or the other, citizens of Chicago, and plenty of other Americans, certainly had opinions on the strike.

While some have suggested that the lack of public and media interest in the teachers strike suggests that Americans care more about football than their country's future, the truth is that when asked, most Americans would probably tell you that they believe America's children and the country's future are more important than whether that throw was an interception or a touchdown.

The problem is actually that public opinion of unions in America has been declining for decades. It was easy for us to agree that those replacement refs were blind as bats and not really put too much thought into the reason the refs were out there making bad calls in the first place, because it really wasn't that important (to many of us, anyway). But when it came to a labor dispute that really did matter, opinion was very much split. At one point, the majority of Americans would have supported the Chicago teachers' choice to strike. But this is no longer the case.

Many of us have forgotten that unions exist to protect us and to protect our rights as workers. In fact, as Franco Ordonez and William Douglas point out, "Support for unions hit its peak in the 1950s, when 75 percent of Americans said they approved of labor unions. Only about one in five Americans now say they trust unions, according to a Gallup poll conducted in August."

And as our once strong unions lose support, they lose power. And when they lose power, their very existence is threatened. We have already seen the damage Scott Walker has inflicted on unions in Wisconsin.

We cannot afford to allow our unions to be dismantled. Unions, after all, are the manifestation of the idea that we are more powerful and able to fight for our rights together. There is no hope in fighting corporate power without such institutional capability.

If you're a Californian, you have a unique opportunity to tell big business hands off of unions. If you don't live in the Golden State, it would behoove you to watch what happens with California's Proposition 32 next month, because your state could be next. This devious measure purports to take "special interest" money out of politics. But the aims of Prop 32's proponents are much more sinister. Prop 32 actually takes away from unions the ability to collect money from members to support political campaigns. But it maintains corporations' ability to contribute to political candidates and super PACs (which is how big business buys its politicians, anyway). So, Californians, now's your chance to stand up for your right to organize. Vote no on Prop 32 and help your unions fight for your rights!

Frances Causey and Donald Goldmacher. Co-Directors and Co-Producers, Heist: Who Stole the American Dream? Frances is a documentary filmmaker and public interest journalist. Donald is a longtime filmmaker and community psychiatrist.

 
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