One possible litmus test for “UU culture”

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker is in the middle of an attempt to cut the state budget, and at the moment he’s focusing on passage of a bill that will end collective bargaining for state employees. This action sparked protests and a Democratic walkout, and for four days now state workers and their supporters have basically taken over the Rotunda of the state capitol building.

As a Unitarian Universalist, I am fascinated by our religious response to this event. For anyone with a union connection, the events in Wisconsin will be seen as a watershed event — indeed, if Scott Walker’s bill passes, what’s happening in Wisconsin could be as important to union supporters as last year’s anti-immigration legislation in Arizona was to those working on immigration reform. But Unitarian Universalists have been basically ignoring what’s going on in Wisconsin; aside from a blog post by Patrick Murfin, I have seen no UU response.

It will be interesting to see how this develops. When Arizona passed anti-immigration legislation, Unitarian Universalists were furious, and a number went and got arrested in protests. However, Unitarian Universalists generally do not show much support when it comes to unions and worker’s rights. If Scott Walker’s bill passes (as it is likely to do), I do not think we will see a massive upwelling of support among Unitarian Universalists for collective bargaining rights.

This, I believe, reveals something about what Chris Walton and UU World magazine have been terming “Unitarian Universalist culture”. While Unitarian Universalists have a strong tendency to support politically liberal causes, they do not support all politically liberal causes equally, and unionism is one cause that gets little or limited support. Because of this, I predict that we will not be seeing prophetic statements from the president of the Unitarian Universalist Association condemning Scott Walker; I also predict that the Standing on the Side Of Love campaign will not start including love for union workers the way it included love for immigrants in the wake of Arizona.

I’m fascinated by the way Unitarian Universalists pick and choose among politically liberal causes, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on why this might be so. Specifically, why don’t we support unionism (with the exception of Cesar Chavez’s farmworkers union, but then maybe that was more about immigrants than about unions)? Is it because our strong strain of individualism is repelled by collective bargaining? Is it because so many of us are members of the managerial class that we tend to distrust unions? Or what? Maybe this will help better define what “UU culture” really is.

3 thoughts on “One possible litmus test for “UU culture””

  1. I also find this very interesting. I have a number of friends from school and otherwise who are very liberal, and I consider myself ideologically similar to them in many ways. They are up at arms about the issues in Wisconsin, and have been sharing links and petitions and articles left and right.

    The UU silence on this really is an interesting reflection of the broader UU culture (a term that makes me think and I think I enjoy). I absolutely agree that many UUs are of the managerial class and don’t associate as much with unions. It’s not just separation, as you note, but also distrust; it is not an “other” that those of “UU culture” need to save or help (as the immigration issue could be seen), but an institution to distrust or question.

    As one might say in Wonderland: Curiouser and curiouser…

  2. Unionism is halfway between the two poles around which so many of us cluster — democratic socialism or radical individualism. And because unionism was for so many years maintained through mechanisms of which we disapprove — racism and sexism — we have not been used to looking at who’s in the unions now. Finally, if there is one thing which unites us, it is individual uplift through education — something which has often been posited as defeated by collective agreements.

    Some of these points are valid even today, some less so.

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