Wednesday, October 11, 2006


United Professionals Redux

The article at the link below is about Barbara Ehrenreich's new white collar organization "United Professionals". I have discussed United Professionals in several previous postings, and there is little to add here. The article did apparently entail a fresh interview of Ms. Ehrenreich, and some of its quotes are worth reiterating.

As she recounted in her book Bait And Switch - which I've read, and which you should read too - her efforts to find a PR job led Ehrenreich to various networking groups that turned out to be "fronts for expensive career classes and sometimes even Christian evangelism." She says, "People...really want to come together, but when they do so often it ends up being some sort of very exploitative or useless situation."

Her original intention was not to create a labor union per se. Part of her rationale for this choice was that white collar workers are engaged in many different occupations across multiple industries, while her perception of a union was that it only served practitioners of a particular trade - such as auto workers, mine workers or teamsters. That isn't necessarily true - the AFL-CIO, for instance, is not limited to just one trade or industry. Nonetheless, United Professionals began as an "organization", not a "union", and that is probably what it will remain. Ehrenreich envisions the eventual power of UP to reside in a general political influence rather than conventional union tactics such as strikes and negotiations with specific employers. That may be a far too idealistic approach.

UP's three main immediate goals are universal health care, unemployment insurance reform, and "fairness in lending" legislation to aid white collar workers who fall into debt between jobs. Later on, UP hopes to address the issue of corporate accountability, "so that (corporations) can't just lay off people or suspend pension and health benefits without some kind of review, some kind of public process." Ultimately, Ehrenreich hopes that UP can form the nucleus of a movement among American voters. As she says, "The insecurity and instability of the middle class is part of the picture and we want those middle-class people to see that things like universal health insurance and a better safety net are in their immediate self-interest. I think we can build a majority movement for economic justice in this country."

The article is trailed by several threads of comments, and many of these are in themselves enlightening to read. A few criticize Ehrenreich's reluctance to embrace the conventional trade union model, decrying her apparent inability to acknowledge the unrivaled potency of collective bargaining, whereby workers can hit management where it lives by actually threatening to strike. They also claim that her reluctance expresses a certain level of snobbery. One respondent goes as far as to accuse white collar workers of being complicit in the oppression of blue collar workers, implying that they deserve a taste of their own medicine. Other postings are generally supportive of Ehrenreich's goals.

"White-Collar Workers Unite!" from AlterNet

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