by Tony Carobine, President
There was a story published in The New Yorker magazine about a doctor whose telephone rang one night awakening him from fitful slumber. It was one of his regular patients, a young man in a wild state of alarm. “My wife, Doctor!” he shouted. “It’s her appendix. You’d better come around quick!”
The doctor sighed and told the young man to go back to bed. “Give her some bicarbonate or ginger ale, and I’ll look in tomorrow,” he said. “She doesn’t have appendicitis.”
The husband became even wilder, insisting that she did too have appendicitis. “Well, she can’t have appendicitis!” the doctor shouted. “I took her appendix out three years ago, and I never heard of anyone having two appendixes.”
“Ever hear of anybody having two wives?” the young man asked bitterly.
The doctor went around right away and it was a good thing he did, because the second wife did have appendicitis.
This story teaches us an important lesson about why we should never assume anything. This is especially true in regard to union membership. Because you are a union activist, you are keenly aware that without the union we certainly would not have the standard of living we enjoy today, or the opportunity to provide a decent life for our families or ourselves. This is not to say that everything is perfect. No system or organization is. However, without the union we could never have achieved the gains that have been made and maintained over the years.
As actively involved union representatives, we shouldn’t assume that all members or prospective members are aware of the value of the union and importance of union involvement. In fact most workers entering the workforce for the past several years come from families that have no prior history of unionism. Through no fault of their own, they have no knowledge about unions or the purpose and necessity for them. Adding to the problem is the lack of labor education in the schools, and the mostly negative impressions generated by the mainstream media about unions.
Research indicates that a majority of people entering the workforce mistakenly believe that by law they are guaranteed such benefits as paid holidays, vacation and sick leave among other benefits and protections. In reality, absent a union contract, workers aren’t guaranteed anything, but instead are classified as “at will” employees - serving at the will of their employer.
A look into the history of the labor movement reveals that most victories came about because of rank and file participation. The recipe for a strong, successful union is membership involvement. While we can single-handedly represent members in the grievance procedure, we cannot do so when it comes to other matters of importance to postal workers, such as privatization schemes, legislative initiatives, or electing individuals to public office who support working families. These activities, among others, require a collective effort by members and officers alike.
As a result of all this, we must strive to become union educators, the preachers of the gospel of unionism. And, to be effective, this must be a continuous effort. Studies have revealed that in order for a message to become memorable and effective, it must be repeated many times.
Given the lack of prior knowledge and exposure to unions by a growing number of members and prospective members, we must keep in mind that “automatic loyalty” and commitment to the union doesn’t just happen today as was commonplace in the past. Furthermore, while union officers and activists generally have a firm attachment to the union, this is not the case for most members. Building an attachment is an area that demands constant attention.
The union’s strength and vigor depend on the commitment and loyalty of members. An educated, committed, proud and supportive membership is the necessary foundation for success in everything the union does. As the late labor leader Eugene Debs said: “What can labor do for itself? The answer is not difficult. Labor can organize, it can unify, it can consolidate its forces. This done, it can demand and command!”
We should never assume anything. We should never assume that members will remain in the union if we don’t communicate with them. We should never assume that just because someone dropped out of the union they would never rejoin. We should never assume that someone who never joined the union could not be persuaded to join. We should never assume anything!