Earlier this week I found an odd invitation in my mailbox. It asked me to become a member of "Fight Back America," which proved to be an "Associate Member" program of the United Steelworkers union. Apparently on the strength of solicitations like this one, the USW is claimed to be "one of North America's fastest growing unions."
While I'd like to see the U.S. regain its primacy in steel production, this doesn't seem to be part of Fight Back America's agenda. Instead, by becoming a honorary steelworker I'd be participating in lobbying efforts for the Food & Product Responsibility Act "and other legislation to protect the lives and economic security of Americans from the consequences of unregulated global trade." I would join their "Protect Our Kids -- Stop Toxic Imports" campaign "to press elected leaders to end unregulated trade and empower Americans to protect their families."
In the cover letter, USW International President Leo W. Gerard explains, "I understand that we must reach out beyond our traditional union membership in order to defeat the multinational corporations and corrupt politicians who are undermining consumer safety, workers' rights and environmental protections." Gerard reaches with his palm out: it will cost me $40 to participate in this admirable-sounding movement., -- but that's a markdown from the normal $48 annual rate.
I suppose it's a good thing that an obsolescent union bureaucracy has found something new to do to justify its continued existence. But as usual, I have to say that there ought to be a better way of pursuing their political goals than forming a lobby and collecting money in order to pay for mailings like this one. If the USW is founded upon some original concentration of actual steelworkers in actual steeltowns, it might have considered forming a political party to take over city governments and elect to Washington congressmen who wouldn't need to be lobbied. You would think that unions were uniquely positioned to serve as the building blocks for alternative parties, just as you'd think the members would rather exercise some power of their own rather than merely influence those with the power. Instead, Fight Back America appears to be all talk (or print) and no real action. Any mass-based or working class-based organization that expends its resources on lobbying rather than party-building is wasting its own time -- and our money.