When I was thinking about the categories I might create for this blog, one on union stuff seemed obvious. How sad that my first post here is a critical one.
I’ve been active in my union for about 15 years. It started when I was having some difficulty with my employer over a health issue and the union helped me resolve it. Next thing I knew, I was invited to join the health and safety committee. Seemed like a good way to give back so I agreed. More committees followed, then a request to run for elected office. I now sit on on our national and international executive boards and I’m proud of my contributions. But for the first time, I’m having some trouble being proud of my union.
Here’s the thing. When I first got involved, I assumed that as workers, we were all on the same side. That if you had an idea, you’d make your best case, there would be civilized debate, a decision would be made and people would work together in a reasonably harmonious relationship. That if you built a record of good work and a contribution that made a difference, people wouldn’t seek opportunities to bring you down through whispers and innuendo. Pretty naive on my part. I’ve always leaned towards glasses with a pretty, pink tint. I learned the hard way myself that even in unions – yes, it’s true – many decisions are based on the politics of seeking and holding on to power.
This week, my union is holding elections for its top officers. (I’ve been re-elected by acclamation.) Elections should be an opportunity for people to come forward with their best ideas and to engage in meaninfgul conversation about the future of the organization. So it saddens me to see that rather than a civilized debate of vision and ideas, it’s become mean and personal. I’ve always thought that personal attacks are the weapon of choice for people with nothing else to offer. I never expected that negative campaigning, divisive tactics and misinformation would find their way into my union’s electoral process. The worst of it is, it only serves two purposes: a divided and dysfunctional leadership, and a disgusted membership that will see little reason to support the union.