Joanie Parker—International Liberation Reference Person for Union Activists (for trade unionist people who are organizing)

Union Activists

Unions unite workers and make it possible for them to stand up for their rights, including for decent wages and working conditions. Because workers are engaged in the direct production of goods and services essential to the economy, the unions that represent them have the most leverage to bring about social change.

Unions have used their power not only to influence workplace issues but also to elect progressive political leaders and advocate for immigrants’ rights, women’s rights, accessible housing, health care, care of the environment, and more.

What is the key issue facing the labor movement? Being targeted by corporate greed.

RC union activists confront both the external and the internal challenges facing the labor movement.


Externally, as corporate greed increases, unions are under attack. Corporate forces, put in place by capitalism and imperialism, are working to dismantle the power base of unions—often in collusion with elected government officials.

Racism continues to divide workers everywhere. Some unions have long histories of fighting against it, by working for immigrants’ rights, job-training programs, hiring quotas, and criminal justice. Sexism and male domination keep women’s wages lower than men’s, keep women out of leadership, and lead to the sexual harassment of women. Unions have the power to fight and correct this.

Many U.S. states are pushing for so-called “right to work“ laws that give primarily public sector workers the choice not to pay union dues. When these laws pass, unions are stripped of the resources they need to fight for their members, and workers are more divided and have less economic security. This creates openings for right-wing [reactionary] “populist” movements to gain strength.

The corporate takeover has led to increased privatization of jobs, of government services, and of schools. To cut costs, wages and workplace standards have been eroded. Automation of our strongest industrialized workplaces has eroded the most highly unionized sectors. Global corporations have moved jobs from higher-wage to lower-wage regions and countries. Immigrants working in low-wage jobs have been targeted as the “problem,” to distract other workers from looking at the real causes of economic injustice. To save jobs, some unions have cooperated with companies that are building gas and oil pipelines and operating coal mines, putting the climate at risk.


Due to the above, union membership in the United States has fallen from thirty-five percent of workers in the 1950s to eleven percent at present, and currently only six percent of private-sector jobs are unionized. In other countries unions face a similar situation. Still, in most countries unions continue to embrace the working class and stand up for workers’ rights, as well as for basic social standards for all citizens.

Internalized oppression limits the success of workers’ and unions’ struggles. As RCers we understand the causes of internalized oppression and have the tools to heal from them. However, because of internalized oppression, many workers blame themselves for not being able to stand up against their employers’ attacks.

Because of the effects of working-class internalized oppression on our leaders, unions make the mistake of fighting for everyone to be middle class. This distracts workers from seeing that the real fight is to be proud of being working class. It keeps the labor movement from organizing for the common good of their members and their larger communities.


As union activists, the most effective tool we have is our understanding and use of RC. What gets in our way of using it is the continuous pressure to fight against the devastating effects on workers of capitalism and imperialism.

We are union activists because we care about what is happening to workers and our unions. We work long hours to help union members confront employers and workplace injustices and stand up for their guaranteed rights. This means we often don’t have time to Co-Counsel or regularly attend RC classes. We get isolated, feel defeated by the battles we lose, and forget to notice our successes.

I teach my RC class of union activists two times a month. This balances the need to meet consistently with our not being able to free up time for a once-a-week class. Everyone is encouraged to have a session during the off weeks.

People in the RC Communities can listen to union activists about our lives and offer spontaneous phone sessions. Co-Counseling teachers can make time in their classes for us to talk about what we are doing, so others can learn from us, understand the conditions of our lives, and see how we are fighting the effects of capitalism every day. Union activists are working in the jaws of the lion!

RC union activists can remember that we are not alone! Our RC Communities are a place for us to stay connected. We can resist the pull to respond to every challenge by employers and instead stand up for our right to have time for our health and well-being. A slogan we find helpful is “Closeness and connection are the enemies of capitalism.” Who can be oppressive toward someone they love and feel connected to? We can model taking time to develop our connections with each other as our key work.

Joanie Parker

International Liberation Reference Person for Union Activists

Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, USA

(Present Time 188, July 2017)

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00