Unions: Keeping Corporate Greed in Check

Posted: 1st May 2011 by USAS National in Press Releases

MorganInterviewRe-posted from Pursue: Action for a Just World

Morgan Currier is a sophomore at the University of Washington studying Law in Societies and minoring in music. She began her work in the labor movement in high school when she interviewed workers who were involved in the ICE raid at the Agriprocessors meat plant. She is currently very active in her local United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) chapter where she works to keep those greedy corporations in check. Last week, Morgan was arrested with 26 other students for occupying the UW Presidents’ office, demanding that the university immediately sever its $3.4 million contract with union-buster and global human rights abuser Sodexo Corporation.

Unions: Keeping Corporate Greed in Check

by Morgan Currier on May 1, 2011

In the 19th century, Jewish immigration to the United States was flourishing. One of those thousands of immigrants living in the slums of New York was a girl named Sophie. Due to the language barrier, her limited skill set, and the segregation of working and hiring along racial lines, Sophie, and thousands of others in her position, found jobs in “low skilled” garment and meat factories. Unfortunately, Sophie was forced to work with dangerous machinery, given no breaks during the day, and was paid so little she could barely support her family. Sophie was working in what we now define as a sweatshop. Although conditions like these were very common for the Jewish workforce during the early 19th century, they were successfully combated through the collective voice of workers in labor unions.

One thing has remained true since Jewish immigrants decided to organize in the workplace a hundred years ago: corporations can be very greedy. The rights of workers are still violated by most major corporations in the form of poverty wages, unsafe conditions, and excessive hours. Although the term “sweatshop” is most commonly associated with developing countries, don’t think America is any exception! May I remind you of the injustices carried out by Rubashkin at the Agriprocessors meat plant just a few years ago? Here, history repeated itself when migrant workers were taken advantage of and eventually faced one of the harshest immigration raids in our nation’s history. Labor rights continue to be violated and it is therefore increasingly clear that workers need a way to negotiate for fair working conditions. They need a way to hold their employers accountable for violations of fundamental rights.

This need to balance out the power of corporations is exactly where unions come into play. Unions provide workers with access to collective bargaining, the ability to negotiate contracts with their employer, and give workers control over the daily conditions of their workplace. These contracts can provide a living wage, health care benefits, and protection from unfair firings. An individual has little power against the global reach of corporations, but with the formation of a labor union, workers gain equal footing with their employers at the bargaining table. When a contract is violated, unions are the only way workers can hold companies accountable for their injustices. Workers in unions can band together and use collective action to resolve grievances and abuses in the workplace. In this way, employers don’t have the final say over the human dignity of their employees.

Despite the many benefits of unions, they are still constantly under attack by those in power. Just a few months ago, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker passed a bill that took away the bargaining rights of public workers in Wisconsin. Although he claimed it was to make up for a large deficit currently facing the state, it’s quite clear there was more driving his attack on the middle class. Walker could have fairly negotiated with the unions in light of the economic crisis, but instead took it one step further and completely stripped the workers of their rights. In this way, he consolidated his own power and diminished the threat that many feel unions pose.

Personally, I spend a lot of my time as a student at the University of Washington organizing my peers and community members to support campaigns working in solidarity with local unions. Over the past six years my dad has had to miss periods of work to receive cancer treatments. Without this job security, it is quite likely my dad would be out of work and my family would be struggling. With this, I personally understand how important that is that workers receive the type of protection unions provide.

Unions are a force for progress that we need to stand behind. They are the only institutions that truly work to protect the rights of working class people and can keep corporate power in check. Just as our Jewish ancestors turned to labor unions to resist oppression in the workplace, we too must protect the voice of the working people.

Check out a video of Morgan speaking out after getting arrested with 26 other students for protesting the UW’s lucrative contract with global human rights abuser and union-buster Sodexo Corporation.