The Core of a Democratic Union

Views from the Board

Volume CVI, No. 3March, 2006

John Babich

In the aftermath of the Radio City negotiation, strike and lockout, it is particularly relevant to stress the importance of union democracy in general, and rank-and-file committees in particular. Although the outcome of that struggle was far from satisfactory, the committee system of our local, which has been in place for a number of years, and is going stronger and more institutionalized, held up with flying colors.

You can be sure that all of us — the Radio City committee, union representatives and counsel — worked together every step of the way despite the depraved machinations of Cablevision and the incredible pressures that were engendered.

Local 802 speaks with a powerful voice that often surpasses our numbers.

There are many reasons for this, such as the perceived sexiness or exoticism in the public eye of persons who make their living playing music and musical instruments.

Our strength also lies in the fact that we are true professionals who make a lifelong commitment to the pursuit of an art form.

The general educational level, literacy, varied interests and political awareness of our membership also contribute to our outsize strength.

But I believe that the most important element that makes us strong is the fact that we are a democratic union.

This is now truer than it has ever been and must continue to develop in order for us to survive and advocate for what is good and right. We create beauty and only bring happiness in this world.

The rank-and-file committee system, which is present in most areas of our business, is the heart and soul of our democracy. The existence of these committees, and the right to have them, is the result of struggle and sacrifice by colleagues past and present who did the work so that we might have a voice on our jobs and in our union.

Committees are elected by their bargaining units to assist the union leadership in negotiation and enforcement of contracts. Ideally, there should be elections after every new contract, with one or two persons remaining for continuity in the next negotiation. In this way a rotation of participants should occur with everyone taking their turn eventually.

The committees help to guide the union representatives and reflect the needs and desires of their bargaining units. Moreover, in these times of diminishing live performance and dwindling work, committees also often help employers keep their businesses or nonprofits going.

Involvement in committee work almost invariably leads to greater awareness of the importance of our union to us all on the part of the participant. Persons who might have previously whined in the past about, “Why can’t the union do this?” or, “Why can’t the union do that?” will quickly come to realize the limitations of the “union” (that is, ourselves) and how employers actually perceive us and operate. Our local’s resources are limited, and the participation of rank-and-file members in this way and others increases our strength exponentially.

In closing, I urge all of you to participate in the process and honor your committee members. We believe in what we do and only by involvement and solidarity can we hope to survive and perhaps thrive as time goes on.

John Babich is a bass player and an elected member of the Executive Board. This article originally appeared in the Winter 2005 “Excerpts”, the newsletter of 802’s Concert Department.