#StagehandView: Are You a Trade Unionist or an Industrial Unionist?

First off, I learned today that what I’m sure must be the thousands of you reading this blog haven’t had the ability to comment. I guess that explains why nobody’s chimed in to point out why I’m an idiot. Please accept my apologies for assuming you could comment and were merely choosing not to. The Newsletter Committee and the Communications Committee are currently working to make comments possible.

There’s got to be a joke in there: How many union committees does it take to add a widget to a WordPress site?

Sorry I don’t know the punch line yet. I guess we’ll all learn together.

Speaking of learning, it was a great meeting today that mostly moved along nicely and allowed everyone a chance to have their voices heard. I was rather proud of my local today … for the most part.

Except for this one thing.

I get that the IATSE is a trade union, I do. I also get that trade unions make up the deepest roots of the once mighty tree that is the American labor movement. Trade unionism should be honored. It has earned a spotĀ  in the annals of history for all time as one of the great progressive social movements. We’ve all seen the bumper stickers about unions and weekends.

Unfortunately for us working stiffs, trade unionism’s not holding up so well here at the beginning of the 21st century. And it’s long, proud past does not make it any less obsolete. I mean, how many people do you know who work a single, forty hour a week day job with free insurance and a fully funded pension? I know, we’re stagehands, we always work weekends. But I think you see my point. American trade unionism has failed. Most of its gains have been lost. Case in point, a new (union represented) auto worker at Ford gets paid the same as his friend who works non-union at the Toyota plant across town.

Which is why sometimes can’t help myself and I stand up at union meetings (like I did today, you should have seen me, I was on fire) and rail against the well-intentioned trade unionists in our local who cling to what are essentially irrelevant (i.e. trade unionist) ideas about who should or should not be allowed to join our elite (ist) band of sisters and brothers. The only qualification for membership we need to concern ourselves with is whether or not a person is working in Austin as a stagehand. Their knowledge or stagecraft or unionism is irrelevant. Our doors should be flung wide to all who would enter. Any sort of litmus test that makes an Austin stagehand hesitate before joining local 205 hurts every stagehand in town, regardless of whether or not they have a card. Every time we sit on an application (for whatever reason), or do anything but respond to a membership inquiry with a hearty “Hell Yes,” it’s basically the same thing as sitting down at the negotiation table and telling our employers we want them to pay us less and abuse us more.

At this point in history, local 205 needs the unorganized stagehands of Austin a hell of a lot more than they need us.

We have to organize our jurisdiction. But first we have to reorganize ourselves. Just because the IATSE is trade union, that doesn’t mean this local can’t act like an industrial one.

So what the hell is an industrial union? An industrial union takes the stance that any divisions between workers hurt workers. That includes “craft” divisions. An industrial union works from the assumption that anybody who’s been hired to do the work should be in the union, no exceptions. And that’s the attitude the members of this local need to embrace if we ever want actual power.

I’m sure I’ll regret it when the comments get turned on. But let’s start the debate. If you’re in the trade union camp then please present your side of the case. I’ll publish it as long you’re not a dick about it.

Got even rantier than normal today, sorry. But the meetings get me all riled, sometimes.

To close on a happy note:

Welcome Jessica Dunbar to the union the next time you see her. She took her oath today and made us all stronger.