- Protests against police brutality across the nation have forced businesses to have difficult conversations about diversity and race.
- Many companies and corporations responded to the movement with empty statements and actions that won’t yield results.
- An actually effective way for workers to curb racism and discrimination in the workplace is by forming a union.
- Anthony DiMauro is a New York-based writer.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The grotesque scenes of police brutality and subsequent protests this summer have forced every boardroom and business across the country to confront the subject of racial equality.
In response to this sudden surge in calls for civil rights. Businesses have removed stereotypical product labels off of packaging, canceled or edited episodes of TV and movies, and introduced offices and positions explicitly for the purpose of diversity. These decisions have all been presented as steps towards equality.
However, none of these relatively minor moves are truly effective at combating the culture of racism in corporate America. In order to truly achieve these aims in workplaces and businesses, workers need to unionize.
Unions can help achieve the goal of equality
There is growing evidence that unionization can be an effective tool in helping to achieve racial equality in the workplace.
A recent study out of the American Journal for Political Science has found that “gaining union membership reduced racial resentment among white workers.” Unions have also reduced the racial wealth gap between white workers and workers of color. Moreover, compared to non-union workers, union workers attain higher wages on average.
So what’s driving and motivating less racial animus in labor unions?
Professors Paul Frymer of Princeton University and Jacob Grumbach from the University of Washington — the authors of the aforementioned study — claim that the reason for this reduced racial animus is due — at least in part — to various incentives. Some of these incentives come from the straightforward fact that the union needs to mitigate racial resentment to achieve organization growth and goals.
Others include increasingly diverse labor markets, which necessitate the recruitment and success of Black workers in order to achieve a majority membership. Still others come from ideological and political incentives attached to political efforts, which motivate “interracial solidarity” such that the union and the party support each other.
Historically, unionizing efforts often joined civil rights organizations and activists. Since the New Deal, labor organizations like the Congress of Industrial Organizations (and eventually AFL-CIO) have integrated Black laborers into the unionizing movement. Unions worked with Philip Randolph in the 1950s and Martin Luther King in the 1960s, when corporations were even more indifferent to the cause of racial equality.
In a 2013 interview with NPR, University of Pennsylvania professor of history and sociology Thomas Sugrue describes labor unions as “critical allies” of the Civil Rights Movements in the United States, and that labor union organizations “believed that Black workers and their fate was intertwined with that of white workers; that questions of economic security and anti-discrimination were joined at the hip. And so they believed that their fate depended on opening up opportunities for African-Americans in the labor market.”
That is, there is a deep history of support for eliminating racism within labor unions, and this recent AJPS study confirmed the obvious: labor unionization and focus on the labor movement reduces focus on racial differences and animus.
Making real change
It’s clear from the corporate world’s decisions on corporate mascots and minor changes that many businesses are not interested in meaningful strides toward effectuating change in America.
These small, cosmetic tweaks are the hallmarks of opportunists seeking cheap hits. We need to reorient our conversation toward the labor movement to emphasize the importance of labor unions in shaping socio-political attitudes — including racial ones.
Public shaming and feel good slogans are distractions compared to workers solidarity irrespective of racial category.
Yet, we shouldn’t be surprised that companies find these superficial slogans more appealing than supporting actual efforts to address racism. After all, slogans catch the attention and praise of corporate media, and they don’t hurt their bottom line.
The labor movement can be interracial and cross-cultural — everyone is in the same position, part of the same effort. The labor movement might be one part of the cure to our current moment. Let’s hope people start catching on.
Anthony DiMauro is a New York-based writer. His work has appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, The Orange County Register, The National Interest and elsewhere. You can follow him on Twitter @AnthonyMDiMauro.
This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author(s).
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