October 26, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Despite any number of metrics clearly showing Americans were a heckuva lot more prosperous when labor rolls were more robust than they are now, union membership today stands at about 11.1 percent of the workforce. A new book out on Hard Ball Press, however, called “We Are One – Stories of Work, Life and Love” could be part of the solution that helps counteract that depressing disconnect.
Elizabeth Gottlieb, editor of “We Are One,” says that working men and women across the country have millions of stories to tell about the ways unions have uplifted their lives — deeply personal stories that could be more powerful than naked facts and figures alone.
“The images that we get of unions in the media are mostly about strikes or corruption, or what leaders are doing politically — but we are ignoring the millions of personal stories being told about the ways unions affect people on an intimate level,” Gottlieb says.
Like the legendary Studs Terkel before her, Gottlieb is drawn to the stories of working men and women from all walks of life — ballet dancers, pilots, nurses, teachers, coal miners and more.
“I took a cross-section of people who I thought would inspire others to feel more comfortable about unions,” Gottlieb says. “There’s something relatable about every person in this book. Unions are so much more than what we read about in the press.”
Bob King, former United Auto Workers leader, says that the labor movement does, indeed, suffer from a public perception problem, and that books like “We Are One” could break that stranglehold.
“We need an honest understanding of what the labor movement is, and there’s no better way to tell the story of the labor movement than from workers themselves,” King says.
Things are not entirely bleak for organized labor. Although the last 50 years has seen a steady decline in union rolls, a Gallup poll conducted over the summer found that six in 10 Americans now approve of unions — an almost 50 percent better response than in 2009.
“You’re not going to turn around inequity of wealth or inequity of income if you don’t deal with inequity of power in the United States, and the only way you deal with inequity of power is if there’s an organization that represents workers and workers’ families," says King. "Nobody does that except the labor movement.”
The success of the Fightfor$15 Movement, is also managing to energize a whole new generation of workers, while at the same time recalling some of organized labor’s greatest victories.
“Think how it would change society if we could get McDonald’s to the bargaining table,” King says.
Gottlieb is convinced that people connecting to other people is the best way to push through all the negative static.
“Corporate America has all the money and resources for messaging, but now with things like social media we can start spreading our truth and what’s going on in our lives,” Gottlieb says. “It’s people who bring change, as opposed to change coming from the top down.”
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