Unless you are an upper level exec, every workplace benefit you have, every working benefit you once had, or heard stories about was won by union pressure on employers who didn’t want to give an inch; the 40-hour work week with time and a half or double-time for more than 40, or on holidays; scheduled breaks from the floor; scheduled lunch breaks; paid vacations; medical care; a safer work environment. You did NOT earn any of that yourself, and no employer provides it from the goodness of his or her heart.
And prior to unions there was no non-agricultural middle class in this country. Unions built the American middle class. But oh how quickly we forget. And oh how quickly we turn our backs on those who literally did the heavy lifting and suffered the loss of blood from company thugs wielding batons. Shame on US.
Disclosure: The last time I was in a union was in 1968, and the last time I worked for anyone other than myself was in October, 1978. It’s just that I know what I owe and who I owe it to.
As an interjected shot across the bow, I don’t want to hear one word about the “Greatest Generation,” how they went through the Great Depression and how they fought and won World War II. As to the Depression, what were they supposed to do, other than go through it? Curl up in a fetal position, to whither away? Slit their throats? And about World War II, the facts do not speak all that highly of that generation. This country was savagely attacked, yet their love of country, their patriotism was so dominant a part of their soul that two-thirds of all who served had to be coerced via the military draft to do what they should have swarmed to volunteer to do.
The only reason I hearkened rearward three-quarters of a century is because the dire economic straits and excruciating work prospects faced by today’s youth truly are daunting, not to be dismissed by anyone orating, “Well, back in my day . . ..” That, and because, unless we do something serious to repair the damages wrought by three decades of Reaganomic union-busting assaults on the American middle class, there will be no middle class, and sans a middle class, there can be no democracy.
My generation, the Baby Boomers, had it made in the shade, compared to the kids today.
Following my honorable separation of duty (“Discharge” came after ALL obligations, including being in the Ready Reserve, had been fulfilled.) at Fort Carson, Colorado, I secured a job at the GM warehouse, right off the west fence of Denver's old Stapleton Airport. The $3.32 per hour I earned, plus the fully-paid medical benefits, enabled me to rent a reasonable apartment, eat decent meals, wear decent clothes, maintain, fuel and insure my Mercury Cougar, and take my wife to a movie and Sambo’s (a la Denny’s) once in awhile. When I returned to Southeast Michigan, prior to entering college, I worked in the GM warehouse there.
Blue-collar jobs that would support an individual and his or her family were both the norm and in adequate abundance. That hasn't been true since at least 1981.
Some, most particularly Republicans and those living in the blood red right-to-work states, currently assert the fact that I was making enough to live modestly concomitantly made of me a “greedy person,” that in the stead I should have gone to Traverse City, to pick cherries, and dwell in a drafty clapboard hovel, sharing filthy toilet facilities with 50 other migrant workers; rather the way all workers should, once you cull the underlying malevolent intent from their oft vocalized recommendations concerning the UAW! The mere proposition that an American laborer might be able to live a decent life and raise a family from the wages his or her sweat earned is beyond anything acceptable to them, it is an outrage.
But why this epistle now?
The “Employee Free Choice Act” is a Senate bill, sponsored by Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, and co-sponsored by Iowa Senator tom Harkin, would return to labor a fairer playing field from which to organize workers, and to reclaim some of the opportunities to reach for a middleclass standard of living that nearly four decades of Republican big business and the Chamber of Commerce have stripped from them.
Business argues that the act is really an undemocratic scheme to coerce workers into joining a union. The Act provides that, if 50+% of a workplace’s employees signed a petition, otherwise known as a card check, the workplace would be organized and the workers represented by the union relative to negotiations with the employer. From a purist’s perspective, I can stipulate that there’s an element of validity to that "undemocratic" contention. But when it’s issued by business, it fades for seriousness all the way to crocodile tears. You might even go so far as to suggest that any voiced concern by managment for its workforce is nothing but a "crock." In the entire history of the United States, business has never pondered labor’s issues in any debate.
What the Act would absolutely do is protect workers from intimidation, a la Wal-Mart, should they even dare — on their own time and off corporate property — to discuss the advantages and the disadvantages of union representation. Currently, if an employer merely suspects one of the workers might be interested in such a discussion that employee will find him- or her self terminated. Most workers now tread the thinnest wire under the “at will” employment relationship.
What terrifies business is the chance that passage of the Act would embolden now trampled down employees to actively seek, and secure, the benefits of union protection and elevated wages and benefits. And what terrifies the multiples-of-tens-of-millions-of-dollars-employment-package-fortunate execs most is that the employees who had been frightened into working through lunches and off the clock and without health insurance might no longer fully appreciate management’s dictatorial orientations and serfdom-like wage offers. Those executives might just find themselves strongly encouraged to yield some of their stratospheric perks and workplace rules, and the workers begin to have just a little bit of the preference over capital that in 1861 Republican President Abraham Lincoln said they were entitled to. (“Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”)
What any won contract would also do, that would disgruntle a number of employees, is eliminate the free skating on the backs of union representation, and make the monthly dues that pay for union representation mandatory on all.
But there’s a threat to passage of the Act, one that Senator Harkin takes so seriously that he posits it might not come up for a vote until late-April, or May, if at all: the Republican filibuster. He needs 60 votes to end one and to date he can only count on around 55, all Democrats. And there four Dems, Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, Arkansas’ Blanch Lincoln and Mark Pryor, and Colorado’s Mark Udall who are hanging uneasy. They've told Harkin their votes are not "in the bag," that they might slide.
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