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Making Demands

Power concedes nothing without a demand never. It never did, and it never will.” -- Frederick Douglass (1857) How is the average person supposed to have their demands heard by the powerful when their voice must compete against PR machines, corporate media empires, and legions of lobbyists, and the ever present flow of money from big ticket donors? We know from experience that moral entreaties “to do the right thing” are rarely heard above the cacophony of donor cash, and rarer still, acted upon in the halls of power. We do not, however, have to search in vain, or reinvent the wheel, entirely. Workers of the past long ago found the solution: joining together in solidarity, or unionizing, and through that common cause combining their disparate voices, so often meek in the presence of the “Titans of Industry,” into a loud clarion call for justice, for dignity, and for a full recognition of their humanity. Unions have been a primary source of power for wresting concessions from elites through actions like collective bargaining, work slow-downs, stoppages, and even worker strikes. These actions are so effective at creating the conditions for change, because they strike at the heart of what corporate power and business interests value most: money. By speaking the same economic language, and infusing that message with moral clarity and a righteous cause, unions have been at the forefront of movements securing many of the rights and freedoms that we enjoy today. Union actions were responsible for the 8-hour workday, and the weekend. For worker safety regulations, and protections against being fired without cause. As the quote at the top of this letter reminds us, none of these liberties were secured through the kindness of elites, but rather the organized demands of labor. Unions have made their demands heard in many ways, but no action is more iconic than the Strike. While it would be foolish and a-historic to assert that striking is always successful, a perusal of American history can leave little doubt as to the strategy’s efficacy. From the Bread and Roses strike of 1912, to the Flint sit-down strike by United Auto Workers (UAW) in 1936-37, to the Delano Grape Strike by the United Farm Workers from 1965-1970, to the Garment Workers' Strike of 1982, we repeated witness the power and salience of economic organizing to change the status quo. Following a concerted backlash by corporate America and the federal government since the 1980s, unions have found themselves on the defensive, slowly losing ground for their members and at times public support, leaving workers in an ever more precarious situation. In the past few years, however, we’ve seen a resurgence, in labor activity, and public support. Today, there are major strikes happening in multiple industries across America: the UAW just last week expanded their strike to 38 locations across 20 states, after stalled negotiations with automakers Stellantis and GM. The Writers Guild of America, on Monday, September 25, announced a tentative deal resolving its ongoing strike with production companies in the media industry. Even the threat of striking can bring victories, as demonstrated by the Teamster’s Union forcing UPS to provide air-conditioned delivery trucks as part of contract negotiations. What’s more, despite consistent hand-wringing from much of mainstream media on the “risk to the economy,” Americans stand with laborers, with nearly 70% registering support for unions in general, and 62% support for the ongoing UAW strike in particular. This overwhelming support has pressured (or perhaps allowed if one is feeling generous) President Biden to walk the picket line with autoworkers, the first sitting US President to ever take such an action and will likely further galvanize the labor movement. These fights are far from over, and we should not fool ourselves into thinking that labor will win every fight, but make no mistake, in the aggregate these creative methods of wielding economic power we can indeed move the needle towards institutionalizing protections for the most vulnerable. As the new election season ramps up, it's time for Biden and the Democrats to voice their full-throated support of unions, delineating themselves from the Republican party’s antipathy to labor. Unions, however, as powerful an organizing tool as they are, only harness a subsection of the population around economic action. There are only so many auto workers or writers who can band together, leaving most people to stand on the sidelines in passive solidarity. To increase even further the efficacy of Union activity, and the possibility of creating ever more powerful economic tools to discipline the elite, we need to join together in even greater numbers, across larger swathes of society. Don't shop on Tuesdays can help in this regard, turning passive support into active solidarity by allowing everyday citizens, no matter their employment, position or location to join together each week in creating an economic cudgel to wield alongside Union power. So, join us each Tuesday in growing solidarity as we fight alongside unions for an American that recognizes the rights and value of every person, no matter their individual status. Don't shop on Tuesday! #DSOT #UPM

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