Tuesday, September 15, 2015
I’m 26 years old and I’m a member in a union. No, I’m not a mechanic or a tradesperson, nor is my membership mandatory because of the company with which I’m employed. On the contrary, a great deal of persons (particularly those within my demographic) working within my profession, avoid my union like the plague. But I’m not here to try and sell you on the member benefits of the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada (AFM, for short) – you can easily peruse said details for yourself by taking a hop, skip and/or jump over to their official website. Rather, I’m here to question why it is exactly that voluntary unionism is on the decline, and what this means for us good old “worker bees” versus “The Queen”.
For those of you who also read my music advice and insight column, “So You Wanna be in a Rock Band?”, in my discussion of legal provisions I feel professional players should become acquainted with, you’ll note that I briefly mentioned how and why unionism first developed back in the mid-1800s.
In a nutshell, as factory work and industrialism began to grow exponentially, instances of worker exploitation and maltreatment (not to mention a lack thereof of any safety or health protocols) become widespread. The solution (for a long time anyhow) was for the proletariat to bind together in their shared “class consciousness” and collectively fight the powers that be (ie: the bourgeois) in order to negotiate better labour conditions. Unsurprisingly, considering that those with the most political bargaining power tend to be high income earners/contributors (a fact still relevant), union formation has been deemed illegal in many territories throughout history.
We’ve obviously come a long way since industrialism prevailed, as evidenced by the fact that more and more traditional factories are ceasing operations annually. For the few that have managed to stay afloat, the employment of robotic labour forces is becoming an increasingly popular trend. Further, in recent times, abuses of power committed by unions (as opposed to employers) have created cause for concern: our own city’s bus drivers demanding higher wages during a time of economic depression speaks for itself. Understandably then, I can appreciate why unionism has cultivated a bad reputation as of late and why persons, particularly those my age, have become skeptical toward it, along with virtually any other longstanding “traditional” business practise.
But this drive away from uniting in a “fight against the man” toward taking any and all actions (whether honourable or not) in order to ensure that one comes out ahead also has to do with a social mentality shift. The obsession with being incessantly tuned into one’s iPod that appeals to one’s individualistic selective tastes (and therefore tunes OUT everyone and everything else around oneself), just barely begins to scratch the success.
Think about it, in addition to caring about the livelihood of one’s fellow employees, being a member of the union also stood as a symbol for taking pride in one’s profession and a desire to be part of a movement that could make a difference in the wider social domain. Much like the way of the Dodo, the idea of collectivism, whether we’re talking about joining forces in a fight for the implementation of legislation that encourages environmentalism or simply having the backs of those within one’s immediate vicinity, seems to have, by and large, gone extinct.
I’ll give you that issues of inflation, high taxation rates, and a lack of permanent/stable jobs available on the marketplace are too key contributors. Ironically however, these social dilemmas – the things that have driven us toward this newfound excessive self-focused mentality – are the very SAME things that union supporters and other social collectives sought to prevent.