The one and only time I belonged to a union was also my first job. I was pushing carts and bagging groceries at Jewel. I was 14 or 15, or thereabouts, so this must have been 1993 or 94. It was the beginning of Clintonism, as the Democrats had moved away from what we called the “New Deal Dinosaurs” or “old Labor Dems” like Mondale and Dukakis.
I remember distinctly joking with my friends about having to join the union, as I was the only one whose job made me do so (that I recall, anyway). We joked about me becoming a labor boss, and being super corrupt. That’s what unions were to me: an old-fashioned relic and an avenue for corruption.
The only experience I really remember from it was sitting in the poorly-lit and, to a sensitive teenager, bleak break-room while a rep explained to me when I could take my breaks, what rights I had, safety protocols, and everything else. I remember being bored, of course, and sort of uncomfortable, and certainly plagued with dread about the adult world of work. This break room filled with tired grown-ups and burn-outs was my haven? That was my union association: a painted break-room in the bowels of Jewel.
What I didn’t understand was that my dismissal of unions was part of one of the great tricks the boss class has ever pulled: convincing Americans that unions are the real enemies of workers, and that we’re better off without them. For decades, the monied right has led a frontal assault on organized labor, an assault that has reached its furious peak under that great hero of the white working class, Donald Trump.
It’s here that I know I should clear my throat and talk about how corrupt unions are, etc. But fuck that. It’s true that there has been corruption in unions, labor and otherwise. But there is no more than in any other human institution, and far less corruption than the pure distilled brutal greed of the boss class, parasites who turn workers into capital and then grind them into dust.