Skip to main content

When I was elected to Congress in 2008, I asked to join the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE). Why? Because I was a government employee. The AFGE negotiates benefits for government employees, including me. If I were going to benefit from that, I felt that I should pay my dues. I'm not the "free rider" type.

I was told that this was an unusual request. In fact, no one could remember any Member of Congress making that request before. That didn't bother me in the least. I joined the AFGE, and paid my dues.

There is another, deeper reason why I wanted to join the union: I don't see a lot of other organizations fighting for the common good.

After I was elected again in November, I was inundated with correspondence from all sorts of groups who wanted me to do something for them. Not for us. For them. Gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme. Now, to be fair, some of these requests were for worthwhile causes. More were not. Either way, it was "gimme."

With one exception.

Here is a letter that I received from Joseph Hansen, the President of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW):

Congratulations on your election to the 113th Congress.

The American people spoke loud and clear on Election Day.

They want a Congress that works for all Americans, not just a wealthy few.

They want a Congress that fights for Main Street, not Wall Street.

They want a Congress that helps create good-paying jobs that can support a family.

They want a Congress that balances the budget responsibly, by asking millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share while protecting programs like Social Security and Medicare.

They want a Congress that protects the rights of workers, women, and minorities.

Most of all, they want a Congress that works with President Obama to give more families access to the American Dream.

I look forward to working with you toward that end.

Sincerely, Joseph T. Hansen.

Amen to that, brother. Yes, President Hansen, I look forward to working with you toward that end.

You see what's missing from this UFCW letter? Gimme, gimme, gimme.

On the letterhead of the UFCW's stationery is the motto, "A VOICE for working America." That's something that I would be proud to have on my stationery, too.

This is a time of hyper-partisan warfare, when selfishness parades itself as a virtue. But amidst all that smoke there are still some of us – the UFCW, me – who can discern the bare outlines of something called "the common good." The common good -- that's our flag. And that's why unions are different.

And the rocket's red glare,
The bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night,
That our flag was still there.


Congressman Alan Grayson

If you would like a chance to join Congressman Alan Grayson for breakfast on Inauguration Day, please contribute $25 or more to his campaign by midnight tonight, or send an e-mail to

Originally posted to Alan Grayson on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 10:03 AM PST.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  Unions, the folks who brought us weekends (23+ / 0-)

    and who continue to work to protect the safety net for all.

    Thanks, Congressman.

    Move Single Payer Forward? Join 18,000 Doctors of PNHP and 185,000 member National Nurses United

    by divineorder on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 10:24:33 AM PST

  •  Alt Title: (20+ / 0-)

    "Why Alan Grayson is Different."

    I've supported him in his campaigns, but wish I could do more.  His is one of the precious few that gives people like me a seat at the table...

  •  You will be running for President one day (15+ / 0-)

    so I can vote for you, right?

    Peace & Courage sir. ;-)>

    "We're right in the middle of a fucking reptile zoo! And somebody's giving booze to these goddamn things!"-Hunter S. Thompson ;-)>

    by rogerdaddy on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 10:29:00 AM PST

  •  Unions --- the WE in We the People. (15+ / 0-)

    Keep shining the light.   Too many young folk don't know the history of union struggles to better the lives for all workers.

    Anti-union "right to work" laws attack our ability to have safe & sane work places at living wages.    Trying to steal jobs from fellow Americans in other states --- by racing to the bottom rung of fair wages & work conditions --- is stupid.  Too bad my Floriduh is a leader in this rat race.

    De fund + de bunk = de EXIT--->>>>>

    by Neon Mama on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 10:36:40 AM PST

  •  I already liked you (15+ / 0-)

    and I didn't know you are a union man.

      Now I have one more reason to like you.

    ¡Cállate o despertarás la izquierda! - protest sign in Spain

    by gjohnsit on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 10:58:18 AM PST

  •  Unions are great (8+ / 0-)
    I don't see a lot of other organizations fighting for the common good.
    I belong to the Board of Directors of a single cause non-profit.

    IMO this is also fighting for the common good.  But we cannot participate in politics.

    Unions have broader agendas and sometimes this doesn't click with single issue organizations.

    Daily Kos an oasis of truth. Truth that leads to action.

    by Shockwave on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 11:17:21 AM PST

  •  Unions are not so different (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    elwior, Sparhawk, radarlady

    The rhetoric of this union letter is all about the common good, but union actions are rarely about that.

    Unions, both public and private, exist for the primary reason of promoting the interests of their members.   At times, it is useful to talk about how a win for the union is a win for everyone.  This is the same logic  that the wealthy use in arguing for lower tax rates on themselves.

    Corporate profits rarely trickle down to the average citizen, and union pay and benefits rarely trickle down to the powerless.

    Unions are formed to steer a bigger slice of the pie towards certain groups of workers who hold a special power to disrupt commerce or a service.   The more of this special power they have, the more they can leverage for themselves.    This does absolutely nothing for the worker without such special powers.    Teachers, dockworkers and truckers who win greater union benefits may go home feeling that they have improved Labor for Everyone, but the McDonalds or home-care aid worker has the exact same miserable condition of near slavery.

    Union workers are pretending they are the front line for the poor, when in fact they are on the front line for themselves only.   There is nothing wrong with this, but they are NOT progressive heroes.

    Here i what I believe:   Progressives should fight for the powerless.  Fighting for yourself does not count.

    Religion gives men the strength to do what should not be done.

    by bobtmn on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 11:21:04 AM PST

    •  Union pay and benefits do trickle down (10+ / 0-)

      When the wealthy get taxes lowered "for everyone" they forget to mention the benefits that will be cut to accomplish this.  Or the bridges that won't be repaired or schools that won't be upgraded or rebuilt.

      Ever work more than 40 hours in a week and receive overtime?  Unions did that and much more.

      While their primary purpose may be to advocate for and represent their members, in doing so, they usually help the rest of us.  The same cannot be said about their plutocratic counterparts.

      Anyone with more info, please chime in.  Looks like there is some reeducating to be done here.

      "'re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view." Obi-Wan Kenobi

      by thepook on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 12:12:50 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  This was 1938 for gods sake! (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Workers got the 40 hour week back when unions really did try to represent ALL workers, and demonstrated solidarity between the workers with power to shut something down, and workers without that power.

        Sometime since then Unions decided to cut off the powerless and work to represent the most powerful.   That's why food service workers flounder while port workers  and teachers thrive.  

        When was the last time you heard of a union member refusing to patronize a non union shop?  The idea is laughable today.    Union teachers buy their books on Amazon and their groceries at Sam's club.    Teamster drivers eat and sleep at places where no one has a union.   They don't care about others.

        Union history in my lifetime has been one of infighting between different groups of workers organized to maximize their own slice of the pie.     It is about protection of their own jobs and jobs for their children.  It is a huge myth that their organizing and strikes serve a larger purpose.   People who believe that are either gullible, or they are on the receiving end of union power.

        Union supporters today who bask in the glory of the private sector union fights in the past are just like Republicans calling themselves  "The Party Of Lincoln".    

        Someone may need to be re-educated, but it is not me.

        Religion gives men the strength to do what should not be done.

        by bobtmn on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 12:40:16 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Kind of hard to fight back when (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          thepook, 3goldens

          between RTW laws,MSM and all the misconceptions that have been put out there about Unions. What do want us to do. If you want read something about what Unions have been going thought, Check out Wars of Attrition by Marc Linder.

        •  Uh... what? (7+ / 0-)
          Sometime since then Unions decided to cut off the powerless and work to represent the most powerful.   That's why food service workers flounder while port workers  and teachers thrive.
          Oh, I see. Is that why? I had thought it was because, you know, it has become progressively more and more difficult to organize, and people like you are indoctrinated to hate unions and think they're all evil and corrupt based on some choice anecdotes and a bunch of expensive-but-worth-it PR.

          You've bought the entire thing, hook, line, and sinker. (I'm assuming you're not just a shill, which maybe I shouldn't because I've known two people who were extremely well-paid to write anti-union screeds while pretending no connection to anti-unionists, and I can't imagine there aren't a lot of those people online now too.) And now you're spreading it around as hard as you can. Bravo: the only solution to our problem is fewer unions, less solidarity, more corporate control, and a smaller and smaller middle class, right?

          •  People like me are indoctrinated? (0+ / 0-)

            This is just like the  "No True Scotsman" fallacy.  You disagree with me so I am indoctrinated.     Is it conceivable to you that this could be my own independent thinking?    Do I have to defend my argument while you ask me if I have stopped beating my wife?

            I have not "bought" anything.  I don't even listen to any of the right wing crap you assume is behind my argument.   I do not hate unions.    I say that Unions represent themselves, not others.  They serve their own interests, not mine.  That is not hate.

            Progressives DO lose something by portraying the union movement as some kind of noble cause beyond criticism.  Unions are groups of humans serving their own interests.  It is the same for vulture capitalists, shop owners and tech workers.   We all serve our OWN interests.

            It is certainly useful for any group to convince a large number of the public that their actions serve a greater good.   Many groups try to  do it.   Priests do it.   Monks do it.  Evangelicals do it.  

            In our Democratic Party, Unions have succeeded in doing it, and by so doing put their own interests above our responsibilities to address progressive issues that do not advance the union cause.

            I have watched unions fight programs that give poor kids summer jobs as park workers.   How selfish is that?

            I have watched unions fight AGAINST single payer health care.  How selfish is that?

            I have seen prison unions fight  to maintain harsh laws against Marijuana.   I have seen unions fight against the protection of wilderness areas filled with old growth trees.

            The list can go on and on an on...  

            Religion gives men the strength to do what should not be done.

            by bobtmn on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 01:35:43 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  Not going to reach you, am I? (5+ / 0-)

          I too grew up with the notion that Unions were corrupt, useless if not dangerous, and generally a bad thing.  Living in Chicagoland and not being a part of the in crowd will do that to you.  Some of the things you write are true.  We can discuss two track wage schedules all day long if you'd like.  We can talk about Union workers voting republican, not supporting their other Union brothers.  But I never nominated the UAW for sainthood, and no one else did either.

          But can you really not see what is going on here?  You are embracing a narrative that not only did great damage to Unions but also to the rest of working Americans.  The middle class has stagnated since we all decided Unions were icky.  Have you really not woken up to what we all forgot they did for us?  If teachers are well paid, then maybe that 17 year old won't aspire to move up to the bar section of the local Chili's. If the dock workers remain well paid, then maybe the promotion to fry cook at Applebee's won't be so appealing.  I'm all for Unionizing hospitality workers.  But if everyone knows Unions suck, what would be the point, and how could we possibly convince anyone it is a good idea.  It has taken some teachers in Wisconsin to remind us of what can be done and why we should work to ensure it happens.  

          Congressman Grayson is trying to change the narrative, and remind people that there is nothing wrong with expecting to have good jobs to support a family, to have medical coverage, to have a pension that ensures a comfortable retirement.  He is fighting the tyranny of low expectations.  If you want workers to keep more of the profit from their labor, in a capitalist society, is there really an alternative to Unions?  I had thought the last 40 years of history made the answer to that question a simple one.

          BTW, your notion that teachers and dock workers are the "most powerful" is telling.  You have entirely absorbed the fiction the elite have been selling for years.  What was that joke I heard?  12 cookies on the table.  3 people around the table, Boss man, Union guy, and day laborer.  Boss man takes 10 cookies leaving 2.  Boss man tells the day laborer, "Hey, that Union guy is trying to steal your cookie."  

          "'re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view." Obi-Wan Kenobi

          by thepook on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 01:30:44 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Joke about cookies (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            Here is another way to look at the cookies:

            Janitors, food service workers and teachers sit at a table and divide up the cookies.    

            The teachers take 10 cookies and tell the Janitors and Food Service workers that they need their own union.

            Teachers have power because they can actually shut down the school.  Janitors can't, and food service workers can't.  Thats why the Teachers union excludes janitors and food service workers.    That is why the teacher get more cookies.    Power.

            Port workers have the ability to bring international commerce to a halt in a given area.  That is POWER.   Its why port service workers are not in the same union as cab drivers.  Cab drivers have no power, even though the cargo they haul is more valuable.

            Religion gives men the strength to do what should not be done.

            by bobtmn on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 01:49:07 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  United They Stand, Divided They Fall (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              JayRaye, bobtmn, Neon Mama

              I think you have a good point.

              The teachers, janitors, and food service should belong to the same union or federation to respond to the successful assaults on the more specialized unions.

              Retail workers, dock workers, and truckers. Electricians and plumbers. Unions can stop their decline and increase their power by broadening their base through strategic cooperation or creating larger, strategic unions. As they are now, they're dying slowly but surely.

              •  Reaganism & making it illegal for unions to (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                bobtmn, coldwynn

                support each other with "sympathy strikes".  

                  When I was young --- other unions, and even non-union folk supported any workers on strike by refusing to cross picket lines.

                So bad guys made it illegal to band together in that way.    
                Divide & conquer is far right tactic for a long time.  

                Poland freed itself with solidarity.   They outlawed it here. We need to fix that.    

                There is no reason to have outlawed supporting strikers.  


                De fund + de bunk = de EXIT--->>>>>

                by Neon Mama on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 05:27:16 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

            •  You are a long time member, I don't get it (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              Why are you talking like it is 1965?  Unions don't have that kind of power anymore.  We are down to like 10% of the population with Union membership.  Labor arbitrage did the trick on most of the private sector unions.  The public sector unions are about the only ones left, and the republican governors have been trying their best to eliminate those.  This is the end game they have been working on for years.  They are almost there.  Do you have a particular tune most appropriate for dancing on their graves?

              Unions are so powerful they prevented the closing of Hostess, right?

              They stopped Wisconsin from eliminating collective bargaining, right?

              Love your version of the joke.  Laborer fighting Laborer.  Just like management wants.  Did you forget who has the real power?  That would be the one's with a couple lifetimes of rent and food money with a little bit extra for some small luxuries, like the private jet.  Not the folks with 4 months of rent money tucked away for a rainy day, or the waitress with just enough money to put the gas in the car to get to work.

              By the way, janitors aren't in the teachers union because they aren't teachers.  Janitors didn't rack up thousands in student loans to get 2 masters degrees.  That's why teachers get more cookies.  Because they put the time into becoming professionals, training to perform this service for their communities.  Is there really something wrong with that?  But if the teachers only make $40,000, how much do you think we are going to pay the janitor?

              If progressives don't fight for Unions, who will fight for progressives?  It's called coalition building.  The democratic party lost its way when it traded Unions for the financial services industry as part of our coalition.  You know, the ones who wanted free trade, so they could make money on labor arbitrage through outsourcing all the good paying jobs.  And after they made money that way, they reinvested it into the derivatives and housing bubble that crashed the economy.  It also had the added bonus of allowing them to grab up all the foreclosed properties for pennies on the dollar, the pennies coming from the american taxpayer through the bank bailout.  Nice work if you can get it.

              You are not making an honest argument and I have no idea why I've wasted my time.

              "'re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view." Obi-Wan Kenobi

              by thepook on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 03:09:39 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

    •  Thats how the Middle Class was made! (3+ / 0-)

      When workers have more money to spend,everyone gets part of the pie. Not just the 1%.

  •  I'm deeply proud of my union (5+ / 0-)

    The California Nurses Association.  I'm on the exec board and we've been through some tough fights in the last several years.  I can honestly say that when we are confronted wih a tought situation and are struggling with what to do, the discussion always starts from "What's right?"  Then we figure out the most strategic way to do what's right.  Our very biggest fights have been over things of limited benefit directly to us - currently the campaign for Financial Transaction Tax.  Always, in the background, the fight for Single Payer Health Care.

    "Wouldn't you rather vote for what you want and not get it than vote for what you don't want - and get it?" Eugene Debs. "Le courage, c'est de chercher la verite et de la dire" Jean Jaures

    by Chico David RN on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 12:55:19 PM PST

  •  i love you, my brother! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    3goldens, divineorder, JayRaye

    i now work in a non union yard- my boss refuses to post the state and federal wage guarantee/ worker protection posters. for real.

    i live in the first state in the union which mandates paid sick leave to service workers, and my boss refuses to comply.

    i'm making one final attempt to get the company to comply before i take it to the state of connecticut. if i were in a union, i wouldn't be doing this on my own.


    solidarity forever.

    "...i also also want a legally binding apology." -George Rockwell

    by thankgodforairamerica on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 02:08:46 PM PST

    •  typing this made me remember something- (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      i'm calling my union rep from my last job- i love that guy and he still loves me. he can help me navigate this foolishness.

      i also have my dear friend from the working families party- i met her in providence at netroots nation.

      so in addition to having you, dear alan grayson, i have others to help me fight.


      "...i also also want a legally binding apology." -George Rockwell

      by thankgodforairamerica on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 02:18:34 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  That's where republicans (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    thankgodforairamerica, JayRaye

    are at a loss as to explain why we do what we do.  Somebody (Soros, Hollywood...) must be paying us, giving us kickbacks....  people who can't do anything unless they are directly benefited by it cannot imagine doing anything just because it's the right thing to do.

    BTW - At first glance I thought your diary was called "Why Unicorns Are Different".  A little disappointed, but good diary nonetheless.


    "Mediocrity cannot know excellence." -- Sherlock Holmes

    by La Gitane on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 02:45:31 PM PST

    •  you're so right- (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JayRaye, La Gitane

      i work for free for politicians who help the working man. the closer to the first tuesday in november it gets, the more hours i work- those last few months i work more unpaid hours on campaigns than i work paid hours at my jobs!

      i love it when all the money in the world isn't enough! i love it when the greedy bastards are defeated by an army of unpaid volunteers and underpaid campaign staffers! i love it so much!

      "...i also also want a legally binding apology." -George Rockwell

      by thankgodforairamerica on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 02:53:48 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

Click here for the mobile view of the site