Solidarity: The Next Generation
By Niesha Lofing
Sacramento Valley Union Labor Bulletin
Via California Progress Report
February 23, 2012
The goal was to draw attention to a decision in San
Jose that could have stripped collective bargaining
rights from workers.
So about 25 members of the Next Generation Bay Area
group [http://nextgenbayarea.com/?page_id=8] donned
zombie gear, marched down to a music event at a city
park and held a flash mob. Then they camped overnight
in support of workers.
The group has about 50 active members, with 150 more
involved via email. They hold at least three events a
month not including activities like voter registration
drives. They attend alliance events, hold happy hours
and raise awareness around social justice issues.
Eric Lindberg, secretary-treasurer of CWA Local 9423
and co-founder of the Next Generation Bay Area:
With the lack of education that happens surrounding
social justice and workers rights in schools right
now, it's extremely important for us to educate and
empower individuals because it's the people who
make change. Change doesn't just happen by itself.
Meet solidarity, the next generation.
Organized groups of younger union members and activists
have begun emerging in recent months and years, a trend
that labor leaders and experts, as well as young union
members themselves, recognize as vital to labor
movement. The trend also is spurred by the AFL-CIO's
Next Up Young Workers Conference, a dynamic summit
created in 2010 for young activists focused on
mobilizing, organizing and energizing future
generations of workers.
In recent years, six national unions - the CWA,
Steelworkers, Electrical Workers, Office and
Professional Employees, Painters and Allied Trades and
Utility Workers - have passed resolutions and allocated
resources to support young workers and get them more
involved in union leadership.
Liz Shuler, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, in her
keynote address during the Next Up conference held last
Young people are being told that they just have to
suck it up and live in a world without jobs. We're
being told that America can't afford teachers, but
we can afford CEO tax cuts. We're being asked to
accept a society that rewards wealth and punishes
work. A society that makes it harder for young
people to go to college. A society where hate is
growing . It's shameful. The economic and social
problems, the hate and the fear we see around us
this day can only be solved by a fresh generation
of committed, smart, tireless and creative
Younger workers are desperately needed to help refuel
the labor movement, which like the workforce in
general, has grown much older in its composition.
In 1983, the typical union worker was 38 years old,
while in 2008, the typical union worker was 45 years
old, according to a study by the Washington D.C.-based
Center for Economic and Policy Research.
Part of that is due to the Baby Boomers and workers
getting older, but the decline in the labor movement
also is to blame, said Kris Warner, who co-authored the
2009 study with researcher John Schmitt.
In 2011, the most recent year for which there is data,
the union membership rate was 11.8 percent, according
to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 1983, the
first year for which comparable union data was
available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent.
According to Warner:
The labor movement needs young people. You can't
just have it being older folks and no one there to
replenish the older folks. But the young people
also need the labor movement.
Unionized workers between the ages of 18 and 29 earned
on average 12.4 percent more income than their non-
But it's up to unions - and groups like the Young
Workers of Northern California - to ensure that message
is reaching future generations.
Helping promote union values is one of the missions of
the Young Workers' group. According to Pat Conaty, a
member of IBEW Local 340 and the Young Workers:
We're trying to educate younger members about
getting involved with their local unions and
government. Young people are going to be the
leaders of tomorrow, and if we don't educate them
and pass along union values, it's going to make it
even harder for all of us . We need to keep those
ideals strong for future generations so they'll
have a 40-hour work week, health plans and
The Young Workers group in northern California has held
two events and is planning another in mid-March. While
it's comprised mostly of union members, the group is
open to anyone who wants to be involved, young or not.
We're trying to incorporate all young workers,
because really, it's everyone's fight.
One of the toughest issues they have to overcome,
however, is getting people to take time our of their
lives to get involved in the movement. Conaty has been
a member of the Electrical Workers union since he was
19, but is only now, at 32, becoming readily active.
I realized that the less I'm involved, that's one
less person that's able to help out. If everyone
has that attitude, you'll end up with no one.
To join the California Young Workers, email us and
'like' our Facebook page.
Niesha Lofing is managing editor of the Sacramento
Valley Union Labor Bulletin, a nonprofit monthly
publication of the Sacramento Central Labor Council and
Sacramento-Sierra's Building & Construction Trades
Council. Lofing also serves as president of the Pacific
Media Workers Guild, Local 39521, The Newspaper Guild-
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