Last week, I posed an interesting inquiry to the Facebook community that garnered a great deal of attention:
“I just read a blog that stated that the Great Depression invigorated the labor movement, but the Great Recession is crippling it. Others say this is the beginning of the end. Thoughts on that?”
I received some very insightful responses that I feel are worth sharing. Do you have anything to add? Feel free to comment and contribute to the discussion.
“I think we need to start over. The babyboomers are on there way out and genX is gonna take the wheel. Maybe we should start from the beginning. Lower the pay rate, even though some of us that work hard don’t deserve that. For instance: I’d rather work 40 weeks a year, at $10 less an hour, then work 15 weeks at a higher rate. Nobody’s is going like that idea, but we have to start somewhere. I know we can’t change the past but the future hasn’t been written yet… Someone needs to pick up a pen.” – Thomas
“The Great Depression was handled as that, a crippling event of the economy, hurting the whole country. Actions were taken simply because they needed to. Current government has no time to concern themselves with the common man anymore.” - Jenn
“Well Mark, I’m a Union Organizer, and one thing I’m sure of is that we can’t sit around and wait for it to get better, we have to get better AT IT! If anything is ending, it had better be our complacency and our “we can’t organize with no work” excuses. Opportunities are everywhere, in every environment, and if we don’t take them, someone else will.” – Jeremy
“With the right plan we can move into the future but in AB we talk a lot but no one moves. Not funny. We had a good meeting in Sept but still no movement – not good.” – Shane
“I would agree with Jenn. Mark, we have talked about this before. During the Great Depression EVERYONE was flat on their ass, so people came together, demanded better living standards, and sent people to D.C. to do the work of the people. when was the last time you heard that? Unions were the voice of the people back then. Standing up against 16 hour work days 7 day work weeks. The exploitation of child labor, etc. Unions need to be the voice of ALL working people today as well, but with infighting and raiding of other unions, we can’t mount the charge that we really need to be mounting against the right or should I say wrong, when we’re battling each other. Today, working America has never been through or part of the struggles of the 30′s and 40′s, like our parents and grandparents. One day unions will prosper again, but,EVERYONE needs to be flat on their ass, wanting to change the status quo. Getting away from the country club mentality of I GOT MINE is a must!!” - IBEW New Orleans
“The construction industry is resetting itself, and some of the trades are facing irrelevance and insolvency. The organizing principles are the same as in the great depression, but the organizing model has to resonate with this time and context. And the construction unions have to disband their circular firing squad for any hope of survival.” – John
“I disagree with John……irrelevance is in the eye of the beholder. The word Labor Union implies who should be involved and most of all who is not those that perform the Labor. With a smaller universe of work to control creates the optimum time for Labor Unions to gain marketshare coming out of this downturn. Don’t be fooled we will come out of this and the real question is have your old ways gotten in the way or are you in a position to grasp this opportunity. The key to the labor movements success was never a good contract it has always been the strength of the members and the ability to secure the work with there help.” – Buddy
“The Great Recession is no accident…As far as the construction unions go.. Its all about the property owners and the general contractors profiting. Non-union is cheaper,naturally they will thrive more than ever during a recession.Back then during the Great Depression…There was more of a movement within the U.S. to get employment going because of ww2. That war created jobs and strengthened workers in the middle class.Therefore making labor unions stronger. I think what we are going through now is caused by trading and big banks on wall street. As a local 638 steamfitter in NYC we need wall street to be happy..Just as Vegas thrives on gambling..new york thrives on wall street. NYC wouldnt be where it is today in construction wihtout bankers on wall street. This ”great recession” is basically a plateau in the financial world.Who knows if it will go up or down from this point. Mark, I was at your presentation in midtown a few months back…As a second year apprentice in 638..yes, There is no doubt !I do my best everyday.WE need more than being the best.638 fitters are the best.. UNIONS NEED a revolution!or at least some real political influence…We need politicians to have our backs in nyc…god knows what plan B is…………” – Brandon
“Buddy, your comment – labor movement success depends on the strength of the members – is the bottom line. Not just strength in numbers, but members having a strong philosophical attachment to their unions and what they stand for. Unfortunately, there are too many of them that are disconnected in this way. Like IBEW New Orleans said, no one active in labor these days has ever struggled – TRULY struggled – in the way people did many decades ago that created such outrage that it motivated the masses to take action. If the new congressional conservatives have their way, we might just see American society reach that level of outrage again.” – Heather
“Some good comments. The one thing I see is that all the unions are not working for the good of the all. We fight, we raid each other, this is the time to stand together. Respect each trade as is and work together unions, contractors and owners. We also have to stop all our members from working for the other side.” – Shane
Great to see passionate and articulate debate on the issue. I cannot imagine that a depressed economy generally assists organizations that are sold on value vs. price as union construction is generally presented. In a tough economy people start thinking very short term; survival mode and many things including relationships, value propositions, long term objectives and similar sometimes get lost on the side of the road. On the other hand, tough challenges generally wake people up to the futility of the status quo. For sure, not only labor but the construction industry is going to have to evolve very rapidly because resources on both the public and private side are diminished and thus owners are going to be very concerned about things like productivity and cost to value.
Finally, there is also the generational shift occurring concurrent with this economic challenge, and the younger people are keenly aware of the necessity of respecting tradition where it makes sense – and shit-canning legacy bullshit ideas and practices left over from “back in the day”. They are the engine for revitalization of the construction industry (and the labor movement in general) as soon as they are empowered and ready to take the mantle. The economy is accelerating that process.