I’m going to be frank – I’d do just about anything for a good union job. But as a twenty-something worker with limited job experience who’s been seeking permanent, full-time employment for nearly a year, I’d be willing to take just about any job.
But I’d really like a union job.
Not just for the job stability, solid wages and good benefits (don’t get me wrong, those are huge selling points), but because I want to be part of the historic and ground-breaking Movement that’s responsible for creating, growing and maintaining America’s middle class.
As a member of a union household, I’ve experienced first-hand the benefits that unions can bring to young families like mine. But when I look around at my friends and others my age, it’s clear that my family is in the exceptionally fortunate minority. Most of our friends (regardless as to whether they have high school diplomas or Law degrees) would bend over backwards to have the job security that my wife does. Heck, I would too.
And I’m not alone – young job seekers just like me are coming out in droves just to have a shot at a life-changing union job. Last month, I stood in a line for hours with more than 400 job-seekers, including many young people, to fill out an application to join the IBEW electrician apprentice program. Most of them weren’t just there seeking a job, they were seeking to be part of a movement that would change the quality of their lives.
Let’s talk about the word, ‘Movement.’ To me, a movement is like a snowball, perched on top of a snowy mountainside. Give it a push and watch it grow. It gathers strength exponentially, gaining surface area as it gains mass. Soon it can take out and absorb any obstacle in its way, and nothing can stop it. This is the moment when a push from young people could give the Labor Movement the momentum it needs, bending the arc of history in our favor for generations to come. The unions need the energy of youth to re-infuse the movement with new ideas and actions, and the youth need the unions to do what unions do best – effect change that benefits the working class in a truly meaningful way.
In the history of the United States, never have there been two groups who need each other more than the youth need the unions right now, and vice versa. Laden with student debt and desperate to find work, we feel like we are lost in a world that has confirmed our worst fears, that those we have trusted to lead us are deeply and permanently flawed, maybe even deceitful and corrupt. We have little faith or trust for those in power, but unlike previous generations who had pillars to lean on in times of trouble, we look around and see those pillars rotting at the core and threatening to crash down on top of us. We see a future where our debt enslaves us and the government allows or even sanctions it, where wages for the 99% continue to fall as corporate profits continue to rise. And for us, there is no bright light at the end of the tunnel, because few of us have any sort of retirement plan, and most of us fear that Social Security and Medicare won’t be around for us when we need it.
The only way to wrestle the controls away from those that have lead us down this path of skewed prosperity and misguided destructiveness is to grow a new generation of motivated and inspired individuals, marching together to veer us out of the way of the next collision and back on the track of prosperity for all. It’s a new world we live in, and not reaching out to the younger and future workers of the nation is a mistake that unions can’t afford.
That’s because we are a strongly empathetic generation that cares greatly for one another, and our social fabric has deeply rooted in us the idea of community and inclusion. But we’re also the “Facebook Generation” – indeed, many of us can barely recall a time before ‘status updates’ ruled our social lives. While these technologies were invented to keep us connected and together, the end result has actually pushed us apart physically; a duality that have divided our “real” lives from our “virtual” lives.
Now, I may not have a wealth of experience with unions, but I sure do know young people, and I’ve got some unsolicited advice for unions who are looking to expand and energize our generation.
First, take the technologies that divide our lives and use them to unite with us and bring us your message. Reach out to us online, because that’s where we are the most. But don’t forget to seek us out in our schools and colleges, as we graduate and search for careers, as we are trying to pay off our debt and start our lives. Tell us about what a good union job looks like and how we can get one, and we will join you. Show us what it is like to have a voice at work, and we will fight for you. Give us a chance, and we will not disappoint you. We will bring the Labor Movement into the future; a future where workers get paid a fair share of the profits they generate, where they still have rights, where there is still a check on corporate interests, and where there is Liberty and Justice for all.
[Full disclosure: The author of this blog post is a member of NextUp California and an aspiring union activist who happens to be married to the editor of Labor's Edge.]