US Workers: Resurgent or Waging a Rearguard Action? - by Stephen Lendman
For decades, organized labor has been hammered after painful years of organizing, taking to the streets, going on strike, holding boycotts, battling police and National Guard forces, and paying with their blood and lives before real gains were won.
Important ones included an eight hour day, a living wage, essential benefits including healthcare and pensions, and the pinnacle of labor's triumph with passage of the landmark 1935 Wagner Act, establishing the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). It guaranteed labor the right to bargain collectively with management on equal terms for the first time, what's now sadly lost.
After signing it on July 5, 1935, Franklin Roosevelt said:
"This Act defines....the right of self-organization of employees in industry for the purpose of collective bargaining, and provides methods by which the Government can safeguard that legal right....A better relationship between labor and management is the high purpose of this Act....it seeks for every worker within its scope, that freedom of choice and action which is justly his....it should serve as an important step toward the achievement of just and peaceful labor relations in industry."
Grassroots activism won important gains. Management gave nothing until forced nor did government, siding always with business, yielding only to stop sustained disruptive work stoppages, street violence or possible insurrection.
In 1935, a worried Congress and administration acted. After WW II, however, organized labor declined. Passage of the 1947 Taft-Hartley Labor-Management Relations Act was the first major blow. Harry Truman vetoed it, calling it a "slave labor bill," then hypocritically used it 10 times, the most ever by a president to this day.
Under Reagan, labor rights declined precipitously, beginning in August 1981 by firing 11,000 striking PATCO air traffic controllers, jailing its leaders, fining the union millions of dollars, effectively busting and declaring war on organized labor by a president openly contemptuous of worker rights.
From then to now, so are Democrats and Republicans, exacting a devastating toll thereafter. From union membership's post-war 1950s 34.7% high, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the following on January 21, 2011:
In 2010, membership ranks declined from 12.3% in 2009 to 11.9% currently, a shadow of its former self in collapse. "The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions declined by 612,000 to 14.7 million." Among public sector workers, 36.7% are organized compared to 6.9% for private sector ones, down from 30% in 1958, their peak.
According to 2009 BLS figures, organized public sector ranks surpassed private ones for the first time, even though commerce and industry employs five times more workers.
Today, the US Postal Service has three times more than auto companies, no thanks to corrupted union bosses colluding with business and government, betraying their rank and file. As a result, labor historian Paul Buhle sees organized labor collapsing, and labor author Robert Fitch compared American workers to "owners of a family car whose wheels fell off long ago. Each family member (now must rely) on their own two feet; they scarcely remember what it was like being able to ride together." They don't recall once having rights long ago stripped and lost.
Why? Because union bosses sold out, siding with employers, getting big salaries and fancy perks, and being more concerned with their own welfare than rank and file members they represent. Or so they claim.
Continuing where Reagan/Bush, Clinton and Bush II left off, Obama colluded with union bosses to impose his business-friendly agenda on working Americans, gutting their rights methodically since taking office.
Should his gutless response to Wisconsin protesters surprise? In a February 16 Milwaukee WTMJ television interview, he posed fraudulently as worker-friendly, saying:
"Everybody's got to make some adjustments to new fiscal realities," endorsing wage cuts to "save jobs," adding: