Unions Just Don’t Get It

The big news from the #OccupyWallStreet yesterday in New York City was the addition of many local unions to the protests in the streets.

And yet, somehow, the unions seems a bit befuddled by the growing side-to-side energy and interest in these self-organized protests. Why is everyone paying attention to these relatively small gatherings, they said, when we gathered many more people last year in Washington?

The New York Times reports one labor leader as saying, “The labor movement needs to tap into the energy and learn from them,” Mr. Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said. “They are reaching a lot of people and exciting a lot of people that the labor movement has been struggling to reach for years.”

He’s right, unions do need to understand the energy that is propelling the protests forward, but they won’t be able to duplicate it because it’s simply not in their DNA to allow their members to self-organize. Unions are the quintessential command and control structures, they need to provide a united front for negotiating with companies and governments, which means absolute message control and lock-step orders from on high.

Unions are the ultimate fortresses. They are in a constant defensive posture, they cannot let outsiders in, too scared to let insiders out.

Give their culture, it is not surprising that when a union organizes a protest no one else shows up. The union membership shows up when and where it is told to. Their grievances can be quite legitimate, but we are left on the outside to show up when they tell us to, shout what they want us to shout. One thing we know for sure in this networked world; no individual is interested in doing what an institution wants it to do just because. If we’re not engaged, listened to, represented then they’re on their own.

So, there you go, Union folks, no need to be befuddled anymore, I just explained to you why the OWS protests are getting more attention than yours!



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Allison Fine

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