Sociology week begins with union discussion

By Steven Adamo

“What do you get when you combine labor, social justice and politics?” asked James McKeever, Professor of Sociology at Pierce College, during the Sociology Department’s virtual event yesterday. “More than just change in your pockets.” 

The first of a series of events for Sociology Week, McKeever discussed the importance of worker’s unions and how collective-bargaining can increase wages and safety. “The personal is political,” McKeever said, quoting C. Wright Mills. 

“If you’re having trouble finding a job, you might think it’s a personal issue. An issue with my resume. Maybe I need to go back to college,” McKeever said, “but if there’s a high-rate of unemployment and you’re not able to find a job, is it really a ‘me’ issue or a societal issue?” 

McKeever used a chart showing decreases in union membership rates along with the decreasing incomes of the middle-class. From 1969 until 2012, there’s a sharp decrease in both union membership and middle-class incomes. It wasn’t until a recent resurgence in union membership over the past few years that there is a change. 

During the pandemic, many workers across the United States were becoming disillusioned with their increasingly intense workload and decreasing wages, McKeever said. It was during this time that unions started to bounce back, not due to union bosses, but from the workforce. McKeever used Amazon as an example, referencing Chris Smalls, the Amazon employee who started a union after management pressured workers to continue working after being exposed to Covid-19 on the job. McKeever said this inspired workers to start unions in other corporations, like Starbucks. 

“This concept of unionization has spread politically throughout society, where working class people are now seeing that this is a way to get better wages and benefits for themselves from the people they actually work for,” McKeever said. “Who really makes the profit for the company. Is it the owner or the employee? 

McKeever used the publicly-owned National Football League team, the Green Bay Packers, as an example of how a professional sports team can operate without an owner. “You can have a team without an owner, but you can’t have a team without a player,” McKeever said. 

McKeever said undersanding how these issues affect each other is important. “If we did more to help the poor, that would lower crime. If we lower crime, money used for law enforcement and incarceration can be put into education or higher wages,” McKeever said. “It’s not just a personal issue that somebody is poor, it’s a political issue.” 

Sociology Week continues tonight at 6 p.m. with an event titled “Hip-Hop Culture, Art, Influence and Advocacy,” with speaker Godfrey Ramos of UC San Francisco. The Zoom meeting ID is 892 0848 5461. The week wraps up with a Sociology Club mixer at F7-207 on Thursday from 12:15 to 1:30 p.m. 

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