Say what? According to the Wall Street Journal, many unions are now hiring unemployed nonunion demonstrators to protest work that’s being done with nonunion labor.
While many big unions, including the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, frown on using nonmembers in picket lines, “we’re not at all ashamed,” says Jimmy Gibbs, director of special projects for the Southeastern Council. “We’re helping people who are in a difficult situation.”
Not surprisingly, the high national unemployment rate has been fueling this trend, providing protest organizers and advocacy groups with an endless steam of recently layed-off workers or retirees seeking a little extra income. While unions aren’t the only groups seeking paid demonstrators, they are certainly the most baffling—if only because such a practice contradicts their message. But organizers don’t see it that way.
For a lot of our members, it’s really difficult to have them come out, either because of parking or something else,” explains Vincente Garcia, a union representative who is supervising the picketing.
If only the lack of parking at protests was the biggest problem facing labor activism. Unfortunately, it runs a lot deeper, as I mentioned in a recent post about the decline of labor in America. The article I quoted in that post cited union leader incompetency as a major factor for the decline. As an example of that incompetency, I would now have to include hiring protesters, as it shows a complete lack of understanding as to the dynamics of nonviolent action. Beyond the irony of unions hiring nonunion demonstrators to protest nonunion labor, how is any business, or the public for that matter, going to be convinced that workers are being exploited if they can’t be bothered to take part in their own protest?
Also is it worth hiring people to protest for you if they aren’t good representatives? The Journal article described a group of about 50 picketers-for-hire, as “smoking cigarettes, reading the paper, or on their phones; a few leaning on canes.” Meanwhile…
Inside, Juan Flores, Can-Am’s foreman, said his nonunionized workers are paid fairly. Of the protesters, he said, “I don’t blame them—they need the money, but they look like they are drunk or something.”
While it’s good that out-of-work people are getting a chance to make some money (above minimum-wage no less, as the going rate for paid demonstrators seems to be around $8.50/hour), perhaps unemployment wouldn’t be so bad if labor was once again an effective force in the struggle for economic justice.