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Protecting workers in the marketplace: new union benefit privileges.

Protecting workers in the marketplace: new union benefit privileges

The American labor movement has sought with a remarkable degree of progress and success--considering the odds--to provide an economic and political alternative in a Nation where business always and government often have sought to weaken, disarm, and destroy the labor movement. Yet, we in the labor movement have not waged war on this country's system of subsidized capitalism; in fact, we have sought to make this machinery work. And we have sought to overcome its failings, sought to provide the economic fuel to make it work. I do not think there is any serious sector in the American labor movement that seeks the Nation's overthrow or even the nationalization of its major industries. Some may call the absence of that philosophy or the absence of a labor party in this country a failing. But, we are a part of our society, a part of the economic system, and we believe we are trying--perhaps not too successfully--to make this whole system work better for all of us.

Under the American system, there are two ways to extend economic and social gains. One is to force the employer to provide the economic rewards of better working conditions and higher pay. The second is through legislation wherein the state decrees the change. I do not think anyone who serves in the labor movement wants economic and social betterment to come only to a narrow few at the expense of other Americans. Yet, the labor law very specifically limits where we can organize and specifically those we can recruit for collective bargaining purposes.

However, there is a continued evolution in the American labor movement. The AFL-CIO is providing leadership now on a totally new program whereby we will use our clout of 13 1/2 million workers to extend our influence and our impact from the workplace to the marketplace. We are undertaking a program to extend our massive bargaining power to provide new benefits to members of the AFL-CIO unions first and then to millions of Americans unprotected by unions. Those Americans will be offered associate membership and benefits that are now beyond those who are outside the labor movement. The new union privilege benefit programs of the AFL-CIO will serve to provide the best benefits with the most service and the greatest security in the marketplace--the way the union contract protects in the workplace.

Now, to some critics, this new approach is too market oriented, too much directed to media gratification, and a departure from healing the long-range hurts of our society. Even though as Keynes said, "in the long run we will all be dead,' we will continue to pursue our long-range agenda, but with a new concept that broadens today's horizons of America's labor movement and extends its unique abilities to bring together new benefits and new programs for the betterment of common good.

Credit cards

For example, the first benefit is a credit card, that capitalist tool. A majority of the 89 affiliated AFL-CIO unions have become a part of this program. We decided that if banks are going to charge credit card interest of 18, 19, and 21 percent, despite the steep drop in the prime rate, then we would challenge this outrageous ripoff of American workers. We have done so, and we are now issuing an AFL-CIO-created credit card with an interest rate of 12 1/2 percent. Our members are now cutting up their old cards and saving millions of dollars in finance charges and annual fees.

We have also created a no-cost/low-cost legal service program. We are doing the same in insurance, travel, finance, health services, and other areas. Eventually, we will demystify all of these programs.--remove the intimidation of the glib salesman and the deceptive ads--and make them obtainable by union people and potential union people alike at rates that we consider reasonable.

This new program, when tied to the dynamic force of the existing labor movement, can be an even greater force for good in our legislatures, in the political process, and in the economic betterment of all Americans. We are part of our society, a dynamic part, but if the national structure is upturned by an economic earthquake, which seems to be approaching in these hours, then even the hardiest union and the staunchest union member may find survival impossible. And so while we must make the labor movement more effective and more dynamic, we must also realize that what is at stake here is our whole economic society as well.
COPYRIGHT 1987 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
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Author:Denison, Ray
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Date:Aug 1, 1987
Previous Article:Forging a partnership between blacks and unions.
Next Article:Unions' struggle to survive goes beyond modern technology.

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