The Principles of a Union
By Tom O'Connor, Treasurer
In light of the recent events and activities that have detrimentally affected the San Francisco Fire Department and its sole labor organization, Local 798, it is time for the members of this organization to remember just what the cardinal principles of Unionism are.

A Union is built on its members. Only the strength and unity of the membership will determine the Union’s course of action, and subsequently, its victories. All of the members in the Union are critical to the advancement of labor, and all of the advancements made can only be done through maintaining a unified front.

Anything that detracts from Labor unity hurts all labor. According to the ILWU, “any group of workers which decides to put itself above other workers through craft unionism or through cozy deals at the

expense of others, will in the long run gain but little, and inevitably will lose both its substance and friends.” No matter how difficult the going, a union must fight in every possible way to advance the principle of labor unity.

If a Union is to fulfill its appointed tasks, all workers must put aside all internal differences and issues to combine for the common cause of advancing the welfare of the membership. No Union can successfully fulfill its purpose if it allows itself to be distracted by any issue which causes division it its ranks and undermines the unity which all labor must have in the face of the employer.

Just as water flows to its lowest level, so too will the wages and working conditions of a union worker flow if labor allows itself to be divided, or worse, if an aristocracy of labor exists. No one sect of a Union should elevate itself above the other brothers and sisters in Labor. And no one sect of labor should advocate a message different than what is best for the whole of labor.

No one Union brother or sister should violate the oath each took when joining the labor cause, “I will endeavor to subordinate every selfish impulse to the task of elevating the material, intellectual and moral condition of the entire laboring class.”

These principles are what have brought so much to this labor organization over the years: the 48 hour workweek, overtime pay, medical and dental benefits, incredible pension improvements, increased vacation and sick leave, etc., etc, etc. Local 798 has brought home all of its improvements through these principles and the unity advanced by all of its members. If this labor organization allows itself to be fragmented into “craft unionism” or “an aristocracy of labor”, then all brothers and sisters will face failure.

As Local 798 and the San Francisco Fire Department head into yet another dismal budget scenario, this will be a test of unity. When engines and trucks are scheduled for closure, unity in labor will be critical to make our case before the public. When the Union is engaged in another campaign to prevent layoffs and pay cuts, internal differences must be put aside.

When public safety and firefighter safety are put at risk because of budget cuts, all selfish impulses must be suppressed. Let’s see if this can be done...


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