The long-standing role of Unions in the United States has confronted a new reality where traditional “Bread and Butter” trade unionism can no longer succeed. We are at the end of the decades-old approach of unions fighting over an ever-decreasing piece of the economic pie. The truth is, increased wealth concentration in the United States means that the middle class is under siege, and the ranks of homelessness and poverty are swelling despite economic forecasts of a “growing economy.”
To give you an idea of the tremendous disparity of wealth in the United States, let’s look at the highest and lowest social strata presented in an analysis conducted by Professor G. William Domhoff of the UC Santa Cruz Sociology Department in 2013:
|Wealth or income class||Mean household income||Mean household net worth|
|Top 1 percent||$1,679,000||$18,623,400|
|Bottom 40 percent||$20,300||-$10,800|
The growing awareness of this huge disparity accounts for the short-lived and largely ineffective “Occupy Movement” of 2011-12, a movement that was born of an understanding that the ever-increasing income inequality is the reality of contemporary United States. The Occupy Movement failed, not because it misunderstood the dangers of income inequality, but instead because it did not have a central idea expressed as an understandable and attainable goal.
But we, the American labor movement, have an understandable and attainable goal that can address this socio-economic crisis. That goal: social justice. As we move away from the trade-unionism of the early to mid-20th century, we emerge understanding that the only way to ensure better lives for ourselves and those we love is to battle for greater social justice for all. Free-market economists argue that all ships rise on a rising tide, but it is our responsibility to make sure that all the ships are seaworthy.
Your Faculty Guild is working to organize ways that we, the faculty of Glendale Community College, can begin working more effectively in our community. In the months to come there will be announcements from Guild leadership about ways in which you can participate in community activities – from distributing food to participating in clean-up campaigns – that will help make us more visible to those who see the architecture of the college but not the people that work here. Our goal is to make connections with those around us, to build relationships of trust and support. The ultimate objective is to help those in the area that are in need.
This new direction represents the future of the union movement. It is time to go beyond simply looking for pay raises and, instead, to envision ways of changing the socio-economic landscape that surrounds us. From increasing our visibility in the community, we can learn to identify social issues that need to be addressed and work with others in the community to help alleviate the inequalities that hurt us all. It is only by championing the forces of inequality that the Glendale College Guild can best serve our own membership. Our future is tied to those around us.
Be ready to join in our growing Social Justice Unionism.