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What Makes A Union Successful?

On Labor Day, we reprint the following passage from Al Shanker's "State of the Union" speech at the August 1992 AFT convention in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Years ago when I was sitting around sort of having a bull session, people raised the question, “What makes a union successful?" Somebody said, “Well, I know what makes a union successful. Look at..." and he named a few unions. He said, “You know what makes a union successful? It’s a union that can really deliver lots of stuff for its members." Then he mentioned some union that had just gotten a big salary raise and pension benefits and all sorts of other things.

Somebody else who was sitting there said, “You know, I think you’re wrong. It’s really good if the union can deliver all sorts of things, but that’s not what makes a successful union. A successful union is an organization that figures out what people’s hopes are, what their dreams are, what they want." That’s right. A successful union is a union that gets people to believe that these need not be mere dreams. Furthermore, it shows them that the difference between dreams and reality lies in making the dreams shared, because, individually, we can’t realize them, and they remain mere dreams.

A union is an organization that takes people’s dreams and gets people to understand that, if they work together, they can achieve those dreams.

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