We have to understand ourselves in generational terms. We need to see our role in the long fight that has been going on since time immemorial.
One of my favorite quotes that’s ever been said on my show was by the great labor organizer, Indigenous labor organizer Kooper Caraway, who said the labor movement didn’t start when a bunch of guys sat down in a hall and called themselves the Amalgamated Bricklayers. He said, from the moment one human being had to serve another to survive, the labor movement was born.
“We cannot undo…systems of oppression by playing by the rules that that same system sets for us.”
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The labor movement is there in the fight against the pharaohs in Egypt. It is there in the fight against slavery in the antebellum South. It is there in the fight to expand women’s right to be full employees in the workforce and receive equal pay for equal work. It is always there, and it is here now, and that struggle is never-ending.
It’s important to understand this because the present context that we live in works against us having that sort of generational mindset, and in fact stunts a lot of our imagination. Take the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Glacier Northwest against the Teamsters. This is going to severely hinder the legal ability of unions to strike in this country. It’s going to open the floodgates for employers to sue unions out of existence for economic damages incurred during a strike when causing economic damages is the whole damn point of a strike.
And so, we can look at that in two ways. One: well, shoot, they just took another weapon out of our arsenal, so we’ve got to just work with what we’re given. Or we take the generational stance, and we say, “You know what, in the 1930s, before the Wagner Act was passed, workers were getting militant, and they were forcing the government’s hand. They were scaring the living jeepers out of the ruling class.” And, in fact, many in the ruling class were beseeching the government to find some sort of peaceful resolution lest we devolve into all-out class war, which many feared we were at the precipice of.
So that’s kind of like the broth from which the New Deal itself emerged. But the point being…that we cannot undo these systems of oppression by playing by the rules that that same system sets for us.