What is the purpose of studying eschatology? After last night's conversation with my father and step-mother...as we all wondered about the implications of the demise of the labor union (my father's present gloss of the Wisconsin recall election and what it might signal)...I wonder if we aren't all wondering about the end of the world we know and the emergence of another.
The labor union is in many ways a new invention. It has its roots in the apprentice system of Europe, but in stead of training and educating craftspeople, it guards their rights. It is a collective that challenges the corporations (once industries) that are resource rich to keep them from running the political table in the growing American democracy. Labor unions had clear lines. Laborers joined together and would fight for fair salaries, safe working conditions, and even benefits like health insurance. Now, however, it seems that we don't know what a labor union is in this country. Industry has moved on. Thus the nature of labor has changed.
Is there a computer programmer's union? No. Of course not. Facebook pays its interns $74,000 for their year of work. Who needs a union? But is the union obsolete? I don't know. It's certainly lost the place it has held for the last century or more.
My father worked for the teacher's union in Virginia. I have heard the unionist's cry again and again at dinner or while fishing...I am not the first preacher in this family, not by a long shot.
Some day, I suspect, we'll need a computer programmer's union. I don't know that it will organize in the way that the auto workers did. It will likely happen online (whatever that will look like in a generation). It won't come easily, of course. We'll have forgotten by then what labor is and what unions are and that interns used to earn more in one year than some public school teachers make in twice the time.
"It's the market," we'll recall. "It's the global marketplace." It controls what people are paid. It demands and provides and controls...This is the lie we have come to believe. The marketplace is people. We demand. We provide. We control. The so-called market forces are simply the decisions that people make. We abdicate our responsibility for these decisions when we claim that the market can do anything.
Supply and demand...these are human actions not theoretical economic postures. We make. We sell. We buy. We make. Without human beings to do them, these things simply don't happen. Buying does not happen on its own.
The union is dead.
We have stopped unionizing.
We've stopped negotiating.
We have forgotten what labor is.
Industry exists elsewhere in the world.
Perhaps next year's news will included the Teamster's strike in Nirobi or New Dheli. I don't know.
But for now, here in the United States, the union has been busted. Why? Well, we have convinced ourselves that we no longer labor.
Technology is the opiate of the masses.