Last night (Sept 9, 2002) I attended the Atlanta AFTRA/SAG General Membership meeting. It was an especially important meeting because SAG is in the process of serious national reorganization. The local SAG branch will be dissolved and the Miami office will be be running the entire southern region.
When I mentioned this to Skip last night, his response was, "Why Miami? Atlanta is the capital of the south?" I told him his guess was as good as mine. As Hollis Batchelor, the "Deputy National Director for Organizing Education and Branch Management" (quite the mouthful - or keyboardful) put it last night, "It doesn't matter where the work goes so long as it stays in the union," a comment that lit a fuse under some of the members and made the rest of us nervous. It certainly mattered to the Atlanta branch members, who have been used to a local staff who was working hard to create and keep work here. When I moved here, Melissa Goodman and Allison Wise held my hand through the entire process of transferring my membership from Colorado to Georgia and I can't imagine a remote office in Miami being nearly as concerned or helpful.
Then, it seemed to me, that perhaps there was a major revelation as to why California has been so busy "circling the wagons." There was an audible gasp from the members, followed by a stunned stillness, when Mr. Batchelor announced that "Right-to-Work" legislation has reared its ugly head in California and is frighteningly close to passing, which "would be the end of the union."
Our new regional leadership has vowed to fight these laws, which are blatantly unfair towards unions and which currently have a strangle hold on the south. For those of you who are ignorant enough to think that this is either unimportant or even a "good" thing, those of you who have been working for SAG and AFTRA wages in Union projects here in town, letting the Union members pay to keep track of your benefits, etc., you can count on the gravy train coming to an end. You can expect the companies you work for to start whining about how "tight" things are and cutting your wages while the CEOs rake in the profits.
Sound familiar? We cannot expect the executives of America's corporations to "trickle down" anything on labor's behalf out of the the "goodness" of their hearts. That's not human nature.
The era that brought us unions, labor laws and corporate regulation was a revolution very like the one that started this nation. Like the American Revolution, the labor revolution in this country told the "Powers that be" that they couldn't just treat people like a resource to be exploited and disposed of at their discretion. America is based on a rejection of the recurring human pattern of a handful of individuals arbitrarily putting themselves above the majority, living high off the work of the majority, without giving anything back. Every few years or so we have a battle to clarify and/or return to that ideal, fighting to end slavery; to end American sweatshops, child labor and "company stores;" to equalize hiring, promotion and benefits with regard to race and gender, etc.
Currently we have powerful group of people who, in their own self-interest, are influencing our government to bust unions, gut fair labor laws and dismantle environmental and safety regulations. Yet again, we have a small group of people who are under the delusion that God has given them the right to live at the expense of the rest of us. On their behalf, our elected officials are making it easier for American corporations to ship labor overseas to produce goods that will be sold in the US at American prices, to make American profits, without paying American wages or taxes. That, friends, is patently un-American.
While one might argue that the concept of union began with the Russian revolution, it really began with the American revolution, fueled by the notion that the monarch is no better than the farmer or the shopkeeper; the person who runs the loom is as important as the person who owns the factory. As the anniversary of 9/11 looms before us we would do well to remember that the American way of life is not just a notion to be defended from greasy despots and emaciated, bushy-faced fanatics, but a reality built, in good part, by strong unions.
While it would not be as immediately devastating as a suicide bombing, the long, slow effects of the loss of our unions would be as cruel, and farther reaching, to the American people. No sane person would want to live and work under the kinds of conditions that existed in 20th century America prior to labor reform, but that's exactly where were headed without a strong union voice to balance corporate interests. So, if you've been thinking about joining SAG , AFTRA and/or Equity, now would be a good time, and if you haven't been thinking about it, now would be a good time to start thinking about it.