I hosted two very good friends of mine over the weekend that I know from grad school in Labor Studies at UMASS.
It was great to see them, but it made realize how far away I’ve been from the ‘official’ labor movement, which, when I left my last union job two years ago consisted of pushing paper in a cubicle, a beige, windowless one at that, on the sixth floor of an ugly building, about three blocks from the White House.
Now, I don’t want to complain about my previous job/s. And, I don’t want to diminish any work of the ‘official’ (read: having an office in DC) parts of the U.S. labor movement. It’s just that seeing my friends, who both in different researching capacities in different places for the same very large union, made me realize how far away I am from that world, and how far away much of ‘official’ labor is from the workers of the world. (Ok, I realized this in the past, too, but there’s nothing like seeing it again, from a distance.)
I certainly don’t want to bash anything the labor movement does. I may disagree with some macro-strategies, and the entire realpolitik mode that many unions and federations engage in, but there are real problems for workers now. And, I firmly believe in it in theory. I just have had some issues, of late, with some practice.
In any event, I’m too far away from all this to make a cogent argument. Plus, that’s too tangential.
However, seeing my union ‘brothers,’ and explaining to them how Three Stone Steps, selling scarves, handbags, jewelry rolls, and cosmetic bags, etc. etc. etc. has the same ultimate mission as what they do at their union, was really enlightening. I mean, it’s the same mission, isn’t it? It’s about helping workers gain power, because, like the hokey pokey, that’s what it’s all about.
It’s not about charity.
It’s not about social work.
It’s about power.
In any event, I know that no one really needs another scarf, as gorgeous as they are, and as much as they help the people who made them. And, I know that no one will buy anything that they don’t like just because it may be made by landmine or polio victims. I want people to love what they buy, and feel good about it. Ultimately, I’d like to help people think about all their purchasing decisions and the workers who made their handbags.
At this point, I’m not so sure about the ‘official’ reaction of ‘official’ labor to ‘fair trade.’ I know that if I’m buying stuff from Cambodia, I’m not really adding any much needed union members in the U.S., but that’s no reason it should be ignored. I know, I know, it’s not getting people elected, or servicing or organizing new members, but it’s being on the same side in the global economy.