I work for my local city council. As part of my contract, I was required to join the local union; there wasn't a choice - no union, no job. I've never come across that before but hey-ho, I thought, what the hell. I'm not allergic to unions (they are after all founded in the fight for fundamental human rights and the appropriate treatment of workers) but I have never belonged to one before. I witnessed some pretty unpleasant stuff in some of the companies I have worked for (example: union recruits members of staff at one particular store and that store is peremptorily closed by the company almost immediately) and I do believe in the concept of unions.
The local teacher's union, however, is a militant, greedy and utterly self-serving organization which, despite its members enjoying some of the best working conditions I have ever come across, continues to bleat about their lot and regularly holds students to ransom in order to get what they want. I despise their activities and my puny inability to do anything about them except silently fume at the pickets outside schools and furiously refuse to sound my car horn in support, or wave back at them when they wave at me. I told you: puny.
My employer (the district of ........) historically negotiates collective bargaining agreements with my union every three years or so. These agreements set down working conditions, wages and all other parameters for the management of the city's work force. The last agreement ran out in January, and the current council (as arrogant a bunch of arseholes as I have ever seen in office) has spectacularly failed to come to the negotiating table to do what is necessary. The first meeting was in April, three months too late. The second was in May and the next will be in September. So far what we know (in black and white) is that the council is seeking sixty four concessions (that's a six followed by a four: wages, holidays, sick days, sick pay...together with a huge number of working conditions concessions) without offering one single crumb of comfort. No negotiation, then; simply demands.
In the paltry 'negotiations' which have already taken place (merely an exchange of principles from what I can gather), they have only modified their demands on twelve of the sixty four issues. Modified, by the way, means slightly reduced, not removed.
I am pleased to hear that the union (a small branch of a very large organization) is going to fight the quite ridiculous and unfair proposals being put forward by the council. It's clear to me that as a local election approaches in November, they are timing the negotiations to be able to demonstrate how 'strong' they are being, how fiscally responsible they are, and how they are willing to take on the evil unions. It's political posturing, but it is playing with the lives of 350 people. I really, really dislike politicians.
The dilemma I face is this: it looks like we are going to be called out on strike if the council stands firm. I actually believe in the cause, but I've never been on strike before. Not going to work (to fulfill a role which the community never sees but is nevertheless worthwhile) will be somewhat challenging on principle enough, but the idea of picketing is something which I really struggle with. It seems that unions 'instruct' people to picket...well I baulk at the idea of being told to do stuff like that, and I really don't know how to handle it. I want to work and I want to be paid properly for it. I very much believe that the council is wrong and that a strike may be the only way to fight back against those idiots, but picketing? Standing outside my workplace waving placards? At the very least, there is a significant chance of looking like a complete tosser (and I can do that on my own time, thank you very much). At worst, there's the chance of looking like a militant, unreasonable tw*t.
I don't know if I can do that. I always tended to think that pickets were the most militant people, the most unreasonable and the most obnoxious. Perhaps I was wrong - perhaps I need to re-evaluate the whole idea. because of the path I've chosen (a simple life; a life where I'm at home as much as I can be) I have picked a job which doesn't pay me a great deal of money, and I can't afford to be paid less for my time. I feel like I have few choices here but even so...picketing?
Raised during the seventies in the UK, when powerful unions all but castrated an already stumbling manufacturing sector, I watched union power being abused and used without thought for the long term (much like the local teacher's union these days), and I suppose that's where my misgivings have their origins. I don't want to feel like an acolyte of Len Murray or Arthur Scargill, but I do want fairness in my life, and that's what this particular fight will be about. I've probably got a couple of months to chew this over (unless, of course, the council sees sense and backs off, but that's about as likely as finding pictures of Mary Whitehouse in a Playboy Bunny Girl outfit...oh jeez, why did my imagination just do that?).
Time to get the worry beads out and do some hard thinking....