The TriadCity Adventurer
An Injury To One Is An Injury To All
An Interview With the Steward of TriadCity Farmworkers' Union Local #1
Month of Elephants 17, Year of the Tiger 5
It was with no small curiosity that I met with the current elected Steward of TriadCity Farmworkers' Union Local #1. The NorthWest Third's powerful workers' organizations are far-fabled, many-storied, and, candidly, more than a little intimidating to outsiders. So little did I know what to expect that my greatest, and most pleasant surprise was with her humor, intelligence, and great patience with my assuredly deplorable ignorance.
We spoke in her rather untidy office in the farmworkers' collective home near Xanadu Winery in the NorthWest Third.
Occam: Forgive my stupidity. What is a workers' union?
Steward: A voluntary association of employees determined to bargain with and otherwise relate to their employer in a collective rather than individual manner.
Occam: Why a collective relationship rather than individual ones?
Steward: Compared to employees, employers are very powerful. They can literally force individuals to starve, if they choose to, by arbitrarily or unfairly firing them, or insisting on extremely low wages. They can force employees to take unsafe or unnecessary risks to their health, to spend unnecessarily long hours away from their families, to renounce opportunities for recreation and education. They can place individual employees in relationships of competition with one another, an inherently dehumanizing prospect. Individual employees have very little ability to resist these hardships while acting independently. As employees we have two and only two sources of strength: our numbers, and our unity. By acting in concert we can force recalcitrant employers into relationships with us which are less inherently dehumanizing, less unsafe for us, and more beneficial to society as a whole.
Occam: I see. Are all employees in NorthWest unionized?
Steward: Unfortunately not. Although the union movement is strong in NorthWest, currently only about 50% of hourly employees here belong to a union. By comparison, in the United States in 1983 the unionization rate was 20%. We're proud of our progress, but are also very aware of how far we have still to go.
Occam: What persons are eligible to join unions in NorthWest?
Steward: Working class people. That is, persons who own no capital, receive an hourly wage, and are forced to hire themselves out to others in order to survive.
Occam: In my home country we commonly hear the phrase "trade union". Are unions in NorthWest "trade unions"?
Steward: We find that term ambiguous. Our unions are "industrial unions", meaning that employees are organized by industry rather than by craft.
Occam: Can you explain the difference?
Steward: Historically, the original workers' associations were "craft unions", where for example the mechanics or electricians of a particular locality would organize based on their specific skills and workplace conditions. These early unions drew inspiration from the old medieval guild system, where tanners or blacksmiths organized not so much in defense against employers, but rather as tradespeople seeking to regulate and monopolize access to their craft skills and secrets. For contemporary workers this form of organization is weak, as it isolates them in smaller groups with which employers are free to deal separately. By contrast, industrial unions organize all employees working in a particular industry into a single bargaining force. For example, everyone working at TriadCity University and other schools throughout the Third belongs to the Education Workers Union, an industrial union, rather than to separate craft unions such as a cooks' union, a janitors' union, a groundskeepers' union, and so on. They all share a single contract expiring at the same time throughout the Third; they negotiate collectively as a single unit; and if it becomes absolutely necessary, they all strike together.
Occam: Why not organize everyone into a single big union?
Steward: [Smiling]:There are some who advocate exactly that, notably the legendary Industrial Workers of the World. Very difficult to achieve in practice.
Occam: I see. Indubitably. Returning to your example of TriadCity University. Are professors union members as well? Surely their profession is more white color than blue?
Steward: At one time in history that might have been true. Evolution in capitalism over many years eroded the formerly guild-like autonomy of educators and reduced their job security to something really rather less than sanitation workers or other public employees. They are very welcome in our unions.
Occam: How many union members belong to your local?
Steward: Fifteen, including myself.
Occam: You all work for the Xanadu Winery?
Steward: Yes, as vineyard workers.
Occam: But - forgive me my puzzlement - isn't TelGar a considerate employer?
Steward: Indeed, TelGar is an exceptionally kind and decent person. Nevertheless his enterprise is a business like any other.
Occam: I see. I spent some time in the fields this week. The vineyard workers seem to stay on the move pretty much all the time, working rather quickly if I may say. Are you required to work that rapidly?
Steward: Yes, that's the nature of harvesting. The grapes must be picked when they're ripe - neither before, nor after. So we work very quickly.
Occam: Splendid. Still, being organized, couldn't you work more slowly if you wanted to?
Steward: [Smiling patiently]: There's no reason for us to want to harm the business. Our livelihoods depend on it. Aside from that, like nearly all working people throughout the history of many cultures, we take considerable pride in a job well done.
Occam: Excellent. Truly spiffing. How long have you been Steward of your local?
Steward: [Laughing]: Seems like forever.
Occam: What are your duties?
Steward: I'm the main representative of the local in our relationship with the employer. I also help to sort out any conflicts or other problems within the local, and I clean the toilets in the collective home.
Occam: Indeed! My goodness. I'm intrigued by your collective residence. Do all the members of your local live here?
Steward: Yes, we all do.
Occam: Is this typical for all union members in the Third?
Steward: Not really. There's as much variation in housing choices as any other choices people make in life. In our case it's practical to live nearby the workplace. And the digs are perfectly acceptable.
Occam: May I ask, how many hours do farmworkers work?
Steward: 32 hours per week. Four eight hour days. That's the law in NorthWest.
Occam: Yes. Curious, that. Why 32 hours, precisely?
Steward: The outcome of great struggles, historically. Same as most things. Meanwhile the 32 hour week is important to governance in the NorthWest Third. If we all worked longer it would be difficult to sustain a participatory democracy. [Laughing]: Democracy is unbelievably time-consuming.
Occam: Certainly. Quite so. I notice that the attractive tattoo on your cheek seems to be shared by all of your colleagues in the local. A circle of people with linked arms. Do all workers in NorthWest display this emblem?
Steward: The Solidarity Tattoo, yes. To my knowledge all union members wear it, yes.
Steward: Our strength is our unity. An injury to one is an injury to all.
Occam: Forgive me if I'm prying. I understand that you take this slogan very literally?
Steward: [Laughing]: As a philosophy of physical self-defense, you mean? Yes, we do take it literally. Physical attacks, theft or malopathy practiced against any NorthWest union member will be responded to by ALL NorthWest union members, permanently, as long as the perpetrator lives.
Occam: Well - but - forgive me - my goodness - you don't mean you'll actually send people into the other Thirds seeking revenge?
Steward: [Laughing]: Not really our style, I think. No we won't hunt anybody down. But if we bump into them in future, the bump will be forceful.
Occam: One final question. What do farmworkers do with their time off? Er, aside from participate in government?
Steward: [Smiling]: Enjoy the City!
Occam: Thank you so much indeed for your time.
Steward: My pleasure!
If you enjoyed this article and would like to spiff the author, please split dinars and experience evenly. Thank you ever so much!
Not yet a member? Sign up for free here.