How individualism affects us at Local 802…and beyond

Volume 124, No. 3March, 2024

Greg Riley


Local 802’s DECIBAL Collective is flourishing. (Click here for a full list of DECIBAL’s stories in Allegro.) Below, DECIBAL committee member Greg Riley (also a member of the Local 802 Executive Board) offers his take on how individualism impacts unionism, race, diversity and economics.

In the United States, the prevailing ethos of individualism casts a long shadow, influencing not only personal attitudes but also broader societal structures and policies. From the labor movement to racial dynamics, diversity initiatives to economic ideologies, individualism’s impact is far-reaching and complex.

Individualism and unionism

The ethos of individualism poses significant challenges to the labor movement, fostering a culture that prioritizes competition over solidarity. This weakens the collective bargaining power of unions, undermining workers’ rights and economic security. Anti-union rhetoric further perpetuates this individualistic mindset, framing unions as impediments to personal freedom. Strategies to combat this include emphasizing the collective benefits of unionization and advocating for policies that protect workers’ rights.

Individualism and race

In the realm of race, individualism intersects with perceptions of personal responsibility and success, often obscuring systemic barriers to equality. The myth of the “self-made” achiever perpetuates the notion that success is solely the result of individual effort, disregarding systemic racism. Individualistic attitudes contribute to disparities among racial and ethnic groups by downplaying structural inequalities and systemic discrimination.

Individualism and diversity

Within diverse communities, individualism can hinder efforts to foster empathy and understanding across cultural divides. Prioritizing personal autonomy over collective well-being may lead to resistance against diversity initiatives perceived as impeding individual merit. However, recognizing shared goals and values presents opportunities for building solidarity across diverse groups.

Individualism and economic factors

Economically, individualism shapes policies that prioritize free-market principles and personal responsibility. This often translates into deregulation, tax cuts, and privatization, exacerbating income inequality and job insecurity. The decline of traditional unionized industries can be attributed in part to individualistic values emphasizing personal advancement over collective bargaining power.


Understanding the multifaceted impacts of individualism on unionism, race, diversity, and economic policies is essential for addressing societal inequalities. By acknowledging how individualistic values shape perceptions and policies, we can strive towards creating a more equitable and inclusive society that values collective well-being alongside personal autonomy. Embracing solidarity and collective action while recognizing systemic barriers is key to fostering positive change in our communities and beyond.

Greg Riley serves on the DECIBAL committee and the Local 802 Executive Board. Read his introductory article from our January 2024 issue. 

Sources consulted for this piece: