But if you have some time, it's always worthwhile reading Erik Loomis' posts about labor, particularly his "This Day in Labor History," the latest installment of which is here.
Loomis breaks down famous strikes and actions, like the Flint sit-down strike, but I think the most valuable part of the series is how in brings the entire labor movement and economic development into the context of American history.
He also beautifully captures the essence of what a labor union is and does in this post, which is my favorite. Here's a sampling:
On October 23, 1976, International Woodworkers of America Local 3-101 in Everett, Washington had its monthly union meeting.
Big deal, you might be thinking. Locals have meetings all the time and nothing much happens at them. And not a whole lot happened at this lunchtime meeting. 34 members attended. President Ken Schott called the meeting to order. Ed Bordsen read the financial report. Standing committees on grievances and safety read their reports. The Labor Council Committee let everyone know what was going on with other unions in the city. They changed the monthly meeting in December to account for the Christmas party. They then appointed new members to various committees and adjourned.
So again, big deal, right?
The point is that being in a union isn't generally about history-making massive clashes with management (though those happen and are important), but the day-to-day experience of workers democratically working together identify priorities, improve day-to-day working conditions and help each other. Loomis argues that these "boring" things are actually what's truly radical:
Grievance procedures were fought in timber mills and workplaces throughout the nation; again, the idea that employers can’t dictate the terms of employment and act as capricious dictators to workers galls employers to this day. Grievances in the 1970s might revolve around anything from employer attempts to skirt around contract language to sexual harassment cases to unfair discipline against a worker who might have missed work. Sometimes employees won these cases and sometimes they didn’t, but they had to make employers fight it out. That in itself is an incredibly radical action.
Too often I think modern “radical” actions are committed by those who like to be radical for radicalism’s sake–and this is probably a very old phenomenon. But these actions are so frequently not grounded in any larger movement for social change or an understanding of how working people are empowered. When people are empowered they fight for the things that matter to them. A lot of times that is getting the brakes on the truck loader fixed. And that’s a radical action by almost any measure.
Read the whole series here; it's well worth your time.