Unions/ Humanitarian Intervention

“First Responder” is not only a job description. It can be a state of mind and a way of life.  Readiness to be a hero is not a CV qualification that can be externally imposed. It is an inscrutable balance of instinct and intellect driven by moral backbone. In the aftermath of natural disasters like the recent hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, tragic car accidents or terrorist crimes, “beyond the call of duty” is routine for police, firefighters and EMS.

Few people not directly impacted by life-threatening crisis would stick their neck out for strangers.  When they do, it is by the noble component of choice.

There are many individual exceptions and some faith-based groups too. But no other organization of disparate people has such a fine record of unselfish volunteerism as do unions. Their members inconvenience and endanger themselves for people in need and they don’t expect or seek any reward except gratification in healing.

For instance, many hundreds of union members from the mainland have assisted and continue to volunteer in the wake of the devastation in Puerto Rico, which is still mostly without power ( except the power of Will to survive) and struggling to cope with massively damaged infrastructure and infectious illnesses associated with present environmental conditions.

Thousands and thousands of of pounds of supplies were donated by the American Federation of Teachers, some of whose members worked all-day shifts for weeks. Members of the teamster unions and other AFL-CIO affiliates also made a big sustained effort.

Union members have responded to their leaderships’ appeals or acted of their own initiative not only domestically but abroad. Following the recent terrorism practically outside Stuyvesant High School in New York City, teachers were on the front-lines catering to shaken students. Teachers demonstrated what their calling means to them when they played a key role in consoling students following the World Trade Center attacks and school shootings across the nation in recent years.

More than once, teachers consciously took bullets for their students.

Of course you don’t have to be a union member to have a charitable heart and do good deeds.  But it increases the odds that you’ll be oriented that way.

Unions are constantly being attacked for supposedly fostering a “work to rule” attitude which bars their members from lifting a finger when they’re off the clock,spending a calorie’s worth of energy  unless it’s pensionable, or caring a rat’s ass for humanity unless it fattens their paychecks or gives them a seniority boost.

Some of the more moderate antagonists of unions concede that whether or not one is a union member does not necessarily have a bearing on humanitarian impulses. There’s no link between being a rank-in-file and personal grace, they patronizingly admit.

What constitutes a unionist is less the constitution and by-laws of the organization than the constitution of their collective character. It is a makeup rooted in a militancy of ethics and an all-embracing outlook.

That explains why out of proportion to their representation in the general population, union members assisted first-responders in Puerto Rico, Florida and Texas in everything from logistical support to health care. Many are there still.

Heroism ( they would prefer a more self-effacing term) is not incidental to union membership.; it hinges upon it. They do it not despite being bound by union values but because of them  Don’t believe me? Don’t look it up in any labor contract. Find it in our human heart.

Joe Ricketts, the owner of DNA info and Gothamist, recently closed both sites down without notice after employees voted to join a union. Ricketts, the founder of TD Ameritrade, said that “unions promote a corrosive (us against them) dynamic that destroys the esprit de corps…”

We can all thank divinity that such “esprit de corps” is portable to Puerto Rico, Florida and Texas!

Ron Isaac

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