I’m a union man. Even though I held but one adult job as a dues-paying member, I will always be a union man. Why? Because I believe it’s the truly right path for the working man to walk.
Not everyone will secure a job represented by a union contract. Less than 18 percent of the US workforce is unionized. But, we owe it to unions — starting with the craft guilds in the Middle Ages — for elevating the dignity of the laborer, be it a mechanic, a restaurant worker or the cop on the beat. A union shop at one business helps improve the lot of a dozen non-union work places elsewhere. Always has and always will.
Oh, I know there have been excesses. People blame unions for driving manufacturing jobs from industrial states to cheaper labor in developing nations. But for every job lost overseas, I can point to concessions progressive unions have made at home during economic downturns.
America would not have developed its large middle class had it not been for unions, the blue-collar ones our grandfathers fought to create through collective bargaining, strikes,and long hours on picket lines. Their protests of working conditions led to the creation of a minimum wage, the banishment of child labor and the acceptance of a 40-hour work week.
The 40-hour work week is nothing to scoff at, Mr. Union Buster. I recall interns at a metropolitan hospital negotiating with management to lower the hours employees should work to no more than 80 per week. That union “demand” headed the list of working improvements young doctors sought, and were glad to have gained.
I’ll never forget serving as a shop steward along with my Republican buddy — a former “Nader’s Raider” — as we helped to negotiate a contract between the paper we worked as reporters and The Newspaper Guild. We were “that close” to a settlement when the publisher offered to pay an increase to one person working in the dispatch department, but not the other. The employees did similar work, but one dealt with the public while the other with newspaper carriers. The public representative was a good-looking blonde who was “being groomed” by management who had caught her eye. The other was an older woman, less-endowed, but none-the-less capable.
I refused to vote for the proposed contract, becoming the lone holdout and was prepared to “hit the streets” unless and until the publisher offered a raise across the board for the dispatcher position. He did, and I became so inspired by the union that I took a leave of absence to work as an “organizer” to help others form their own unions. I entered law school later to become a labor lawyer.
(I don’t think anyone ever told the second dispatcher how her union worked on her behalf. I saw it as my responsibility to a “fellow” worker and believed with all of my heart that another union negotiator would have done the same for me.)
Unions can serve as the moral compass in the workplace by preventing business abuses. Is it any wonder that the rise of corporations and the “one-percenters” in the past 30 years have been with the decline of, and attack on, the union movement?
[You have no one to blame but yourself if you don’t have a job . . . no one to blame but yourself if you are not rich — Former Republican Presidential Candidate Herman Cain]