Effect changes by taking a stand

Monday, May 31, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:07 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

As a former member of Communication Workers of America, I was proud of the fact that this group went on strike to protest the outsourcing of American jobs by SBC. As far as I’m concerned this represents one of the few efforts designed to address government trade policies that are putting people out of work. Too often these days the country’s leaders behave as if they are an autonomous body who have to be accountable to no one and too many citizens behave as if they are powerless children who have no choice but to obey their “head honchos.”

The labor culture, like everything else, has changed dramatically since I belonged to a labor union. The “all for one and one for all” attitude inherent within the process of collective bargaining hardly seems to appeal anymore since employees, nowadays, believe that their personal skills and talents will entitle them to the best wage and benefits companies have to offer. I guess one has to arrive at a certain maturity and have accumulated years of experience in the labor market before one learns how vulnerable the individual employee is against a barrage of company “brass.”

In the days when I walked the picket line at SBC, most of the managers at the company had risen up through the ranks and had once been CWA members, so going out on strike was more like a disagreement in the family. Which, of course, makes for a better situation.

Today, we’re constantly being told by the experts that the economy is on the upswing and that as many jobs are coming into the country as are leaving it. Those of us who have difficulty accepting that information are labeled “stupid.” I don’t mind admitting that I am not an economist and neither are most of the people I know. We’re just part of the working class, who don’t pore over statistics, weighing economic trends against each other to prove theories. Instead, we just look at the number of businesses closing, the number of jobs discontinued, the number of people we know who have either lost or are losing their jobs and the number of family homes foreclosed on. We’re also facing the high prices of items like bacon and eggs, the cost of gas at the pump and how little we have left over from the monthly income. And we also notice how few corporate criminals are being sent to jail.

But, I suppose, some folks would consider us lucky that we have so many silly, useless, non-productive distractions like reality television shows, quirky food trends and a steady diet of sexual entertainment that we can easily get laid-back and not have to concern ourselves that many of the underpinnings that constitute a civilized society are coming loose and the fabric that they held together is gradually unraveling.

I truly doubt that 100,000 or so telephone workers can put an end to our trade deficit. But I continue to believe that unless people stand up for what they believe, change will only come about through Divine Intervention or catastrophic circumstances. And I do believe beyond a doubt that good will ultimately overcome evil unconditionally, whether or not human beings participate in the process.

It is not necessary, of course, for anyone to work toward the betterment of society. Nor is it mandatory for people to advocate on behalf of freedom, justice or equality. Some people do these things out of a sense of social responsibility and out of a desire to live a meaningful and productive life.

Optimists will be quick to remind me I am sure that it is always the best and the worst of times. Unlike me they believe in the integrity of the people in leadership positions, simply because they are Americans, and they have this undying belief that in spite of our crime rate, Americans always do the right thing. It’s unpatriotic not to think so, right?

In any case, now that the Communication Workers of America have negotiated their differences with SBC and some people are referring to it as a win-win situation for both parties, those who walked the picket line have the satisfaction of knowing that they took a stand in the matter and as direct result of their action a desirable goal was reached.

I hope some of America’s workers will wake up and learn again that collective bargaining is not a bad thing. Perhaps, a revisit to labor history in the United States would inform them of how many of the advantages that American workers have today were negotiated by labor unions.

In the end labor unions are like political parties - they are only as good as the leaders that the members put in charge.

Somehow, it always comes down to “we the people.”

The buck always stops there.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at

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