The Ecology of Power SRI and Unionization

The Ecology of Power: The Right to Organize and Engage in Collective Bargaining

Ruth Rosenbaum, TC, PhD

A few years ago, we published an insert about the importance of the right of workers to organize and engage in collective bargaining. Recent months have seen the issue of the right of employees in the US to organize has come under significant attack as government on the local, state and national levels have sought to balance budgets. The right or workers to expect a decent standard of living in return for an honest day's work has somehow come to be blamed for the economic mess in which the US finds itself. However it is hard to understand how the removal of basic rights from one group of workers will assist others who are struggling for economic survival.

To understand this moment of choice, there are a series of key points to examine:

Point 1: Definition of the term "ethic"

The dictionary tells us that an ethic is the standard of a group. The question before us is: which group? To which group and with whom do we belong? If it is just us, we can create any standard for ourselves that we wish. But, if we see as part of the larger human community, then the ethics we adopt, profess and live by must be in union with the knowledge that our actions affect others. The type of effect is the core question.

Point 2: The question is not that of unionization but of the right of workers to organize and engage in collective bargaining.

These are core conventions of the ILO. When we ask why these core conventions exist, we find the answer in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, most especially in its economic components.

Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly states:

(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for him/herself and his/her family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his/her interests.

With this article, two key questions are before us: what is the purpose of work? And who should benefit from that work? The answer is clear: work is for the workers. Yes, investors benefit. Yes, employers benefit. Yet the core purpose of work is for the benefit of the workers.

The ability of workers to achieve these rights set forth in this article 23 is dependent on the right of workers to organize and to engage in collective bargaining.

Point 3: The Ecology of Power

Power, the ability to bring about change (or to prevent that change) exists within eco-systems and econo-systems as do all other resources available on the earth. There are two key principles or requirements of eco-systems and econo-systems that are relevant to the discussion of the right of workers to organize and engage in collective bargaining.

Eco/Econo-system Requirement 1: Balance, flow and dynamic equilibrium

For any eco-system or econo-system to function, there has to be the ability for dynamic flow throughout the system. We are accustomed to examine the flow of water, nutrients, wastes, etc. as they are used and re-used in such a way that what is needed or used by one member or community within the eco-system can be transformed through that use into substances that can be used by other members of the eco-systems. Food chains and the water cycle are often used as the simplest examples of this dynamic equilibrium. Whatever interrupts this flow disrupts the eco-system. These interruptions can be natural or human made. The point is that they exist…and that they disrupt. The question is whether the individual eco-system can recover over time. The answer is that it depends on the interruption.

The same requirement exists for power within the econo-system. The right to organize and engage in collective bargaining allows some of the more powerless within the econo-system to use their individual pieces of power, no matter how small or how silent, collectively, thereby providing a voice which can be heard and a piece of power that can speak on behalf of workers.

Eco/Econo-system Requirement 2: Non-accumulation. Anything that accumulates in any part of an eco-system or econo-system disrupts that system. The accumulation of any substance or population within the system puts stress on the normal flow and balance within the system and, if allowed to continue over time, can destroy the system itself. This possibility for destruction can come from a variety of directions. Non-flow causes the other components or members of the system to do without. In addition, the accumulation causes stress wherever it occurs. Even if what accumulates is a good thing, its over-presence can destroy or disrupt.

Here the right to organize and engage in collective bargaining is a key component of maintaining a system of non-accumulation of power. In the globalized economy, most power sits within the corporations, the governments and the international organizations that govern trade. The voices of workers, those who labor in our factories and fields, offices and stores need also to be heard. The right to organize and engage in collective bargaining through the organizations of their choice enables workers and their needs also to be heard. It also allows for their ideas to be heard. It allows the workers collectively to have their seat at the table of design, discussion and decision.

Point 4: Sustainability

With all the talk about sustainability, the core question of who or what is being sustained still remains. Yes, we know that the corporations are being sustained. Yes, we know that shareholders are being sustained. But the question of sustainability is larger than just those two groups. Sustainability includes the ability of the workers to sustain themselves and their families. Sustainability includes the ability of communities to sustain themselves through the development and maintenance of the tax base of their communities.

The voice of workers, and their ability to access decent wages, benefits and, by extension, the tax base that supports and maintains the physical and social infrastructure upon which communities are built, are maintained through the right of organize and engage in collective bargaining. It is that simple and that complex.

Without that right, workers become just another commodity to be used within the global economy.

With these four key points, the question of respect for the right of workers to organize comes full circle. If we do not respect that right, then our concern for "ethics", for human rights, for the eco-system and for sustainability, becomes moot.

This is a question of our integrity, our sustainability, our "ethic" as a national and international community. How we will answer remains to be seen.

Comments (0) 19.12.2013. 07:06