Saturday, July 10, 2010

Least of These

Having just read C. Wess Daniel's blog on John Woolman (there's a link through Quakerquaker below and to the right on this blog), I wonder if we can tie our Quaker witness to the following, which appeared in today's New York Times. Bob Herbert writes:

"Listen to the soft-spoken new president of the U.A.W., Bob King.

“My view of the labor movement today,” he said in an interview, “is that we got too focused on our contracts and our own membership and forgot that the only way, ultimately, that we protect our members and workers in general is by fighting for justice for everybody.”

The fundamental issue is that “every human being deserves dignity and a decent standard of living,” he said, “and the whole point of the labor movement is to help make that happen.”

In Mr. King’s view, the fight to organize workers and improve their wages and benefits is important, but it’s part of a much broader effort to improve the lives of individuals and families throughout the country and beyond. He is a believer in cooperative efforts and shared sacrifice, and is unabashedly idealistic as he outlines what can only be described as a new activism on labor’s part.

He promised his members last month that the U.A.W. would be marching and campaigning and organizing — for jobs, for a moratorium on home foreclosures, for civil and human rights and against the mistreatment of immigrants, and for peace."

I find myself responding to this unabashed idealism and a vision that is not narrowly "unionistic" but wants to make life better for everyone. What do you think?


Hystery said...

The history of labor in this country is a great history, but one that so few people know and appreciate. It has connections to so many other human rights and free-thought concerns. It does make me sad to hear working people make statements against unions.

Diane said...


I am quoting much from other sources as I give my brain a rest, but I was almost afraid to put this up, given the hostility to unions, even though they did give us the 40 hour week, paid holidays and Saturdays off. We take these benefits as givens, until they're gone.

Bill Samuel said...

Unions can either be very narrow in focus, trying to see that their members do well regardless of how others do, or broad, seeing their goal as the welfare of all. That's not 2 points, but a spectrum.

It turns out that the broader approach really works out better for the members in the long run. The narrow, selfish approach tends to backfire. It does make it easy to paint unions as the enemies of the people. That has happened with public employee unions in my county. They have succeeded in getting wages and benefits far exceeding those of nearby, similar counties. They are now seen as the enemy of the poor as well as of taxpayers, because in these times the budget won't stretch. This has resulted in so much public pressure to break the contracts that the County has had to do that. The news is full of scandals and outrages with the unions, and their ability to help their own members has thus been put in jeopardy.

Daniel Wilcox said...

Hi Diane,

Though I wished I had written a recent blog on Woolman, I haven't.

You probably meant to say "having just read C. Wess Daniels's blog..."

the other Daniel:-)

Ted M. Gossard said...

Good point and thoughts here, Diane. And good points on the comments, particularly on Bill's.

Unions are necessary in this world, but the big picture must be kept in view. When helping others prosper, this tends toward prosperity for all, I think.

It's when the down and out can't seem to get up on their feet so that they can contribute to their families and to society, that society suffers, I think.

Diane said...


I seem to have lost my former comment, but I agree with you and with Bill.

Other Daniel,

I have made the change.