July 18, 2014

Why is political action so important to the labor movement?

Source: NYSUT Communications
voting booth

It's not uncommon for some NYSUT members to ask the question: "Why does my union 'do' politics?" In truth, political action is one of a union's most important - and effective - tools.

Most of today's young people are not aware of the bitter teacher strikes and labor strife that led to the Taylor Law and, later, the Triborough Amendment in the 1960s and early '70s. In fact, many of the rights members currently enjoy in the workplace were won by their own unions in tough contract fights, in the courts and through political action that helped to elect candidates supportive of our issues and our professions.

All members - both new and experienced - should understand that successful political action can influence what happens to them at home and on the job. And, you know what? A lack of success in politics can also influence them - in a bad way.

Talk with members about the contract rights and benefits won by your local in bargaining. Explain to them that salaries, pensions, tenure and health insurance are not bestowed by benevolent superintendents and paternalistic school boards, but are the product of sweat and hard work by their union brothers and sisters. It's a good idea to invite a respected retired union leader from your area to a meeting to talk about unions in the 60s and how we got to where we are today.

In addition to your local's bargaining history, explain how electing pro-education school board members benefits them, as well as the children and community they serve. From there, it's an easy transition to explaining the importance of union activism in state and national elections. Our professions prosper when we have in office an elected leader who is concerned about our issues and willing to fight alongside NYSUT for more funding and better programs and policies. The alternative, of course, is to spend time, money and energy trying to beat back destructive proposals that erode our gains, with no sympathetic ear to listen to our concerns.

NYSUT members who volunteer their time, energy and talent to work on behalf of the union - and those candidates on the "right side" of the issues they care about - are the lifeblood of this organization and a source of great strength. Every hardened veteran of politics knows that, while money is certainly necessary to run a successful election campaign, campaigns are rarely successful without a cadre of enthusiastic, hard-working volunteers.

Learn more about the benefits of union membership at www.nysut.org/unionvalue.