January 21, 2005

Why labor unions matter.

In the 1950s, one out of three US workers belonged to a union. Today, just over one in ten are union members. This decline is no accident: Beginning in the 1970s, US corporations began waging a war against organized labor and the right or workers organize. The corporations have backed anti-labor legislation in Congress and so-called 'right to work' laws in the states, and they've waged an incessant (and largely successful) PR campaign to convince people that unions are just another oppressive, corrupt bureaucracy.

Unfortunately, a lot of the activities of US unions since the 1950s played right into the hands of the corporations. Instead of reaching out to women, people of color, and immigrants, many unions fought the entry of these groups into the workforce and, especially, into union jobs. And many unions looked out only for the interests of senior members by accepting two-tier contracts that gave new and younger workers lower wages and fewer benefits.

We could go on to talk about how the federal agency that's supposed to protect the right of workers to organize, the NLRB, is now one of the biggest obstacles to successful union drives, but we think you can understand the magnitude of labor's problems.

In the current In These Times, Christopher Hayes looks at the the fight over the future direction of the labor movment.

Faced with the possibility of permanent irrelevance, different factions of the AFL-CIO have recently been engaged in a knock-down, drag-out fight over what is to be done. Despite occasional coverage in the mainstream media, this has drawn just a smattering of attention in liberal publications and the blogosphere. But progressives everywhere need to realize that they have a powerful stake in its outcome: Without the American labor movement there is no American left, and the debate taking place right now could very well determine if the movement survives.

It's an excellent article. You should read it now.

Posted by Magpie at January 21, 2005 03:55 PM | Labor | TrackBack(1) | Technorati links |

Let's count all the industries that have been driven out of business because of presures from Unions that continue to drive up the cost of doing business shall we?

Unions remove freedoms from employees. If an new employee starts a job at a company that has a union that peron is forced to join that union - they have no choice. Then, of course, come the union fees - some FAT slobs in the union chain sitt'n around doing no work as the poor worker does his.

Posted by: Maddie Dog at January 21, 2005 04:33 PM

the only 'freedoms' unions remove from employees are the freedom to work for low pay; the freedom to be fired without cause; the freedom to have have no benefits (or prohibitively expensive benefits; and the freedom to have little or no say over their working conditions.

if a person starts working at a company with a union, we'd imagine that one of the reasons why they found the job attractive is because of the relatively high wages and decent benefits. why should they expect to not join the union (or pay a fee in lieu of union dues) if they enjoy the benefits gained by collective bargaining? hmmm?

one of the main reasons why US jobs are lost to low-wage foreign countries is because those countries *don't* have strong, independent trade unions that can get workers a fair living wage. not to mention the fact that US laws make it easy for companies to export jobs. (often, the US government subsidizes the export of those jobs.

and if those 'union slobs' sitting around not working after grabbing all those union dues from the poor abused workers are such a huge problem, we're sure you must be just as upset about those corporate bigwigs draining pension funds to provide bigger returns to investors? or the ones that evade safety laws to wring out a few more cents of profit on the dollar, at the cost of workers' health and lives? yes???

if you're going to comment here, try using some facts instead of parroting the right-wing anti-union drivel that's been used (and discredited) since the 19th century.

Posted by: Magpie at January 21, 2005 05:36 PM

I went to see a Steve Earle show not long ago and I think he said it best: "If you have a boss, join a Union."

Posted by: obelus at January 24, 2005 07:20 AM

The union's fight for your future is a cry for the past. This is so simple it is hard to believe the rank and file is not throwing unions at a faster rate. Thank the teacher's unions for keeping the country stupid.

liberalquicksand.com has several examples for everyone's continued education.

The bottom line is; the union's job is done!
The government now does all the things the unions were sold to the rank and file to do; namely protect the worker from unsafe working conditions.
Lawyers, HMO's and insurance companies, along with the unnecessary government OSHA inspectors, now handle that load.
The unions of today are shamelessly exposed as communist organizations (which the fall of capitalism was stated as the goal in the first union charter) bent on political power, organized crime staple income and of course soft jobs off the backs of the rank and file.

I mean when government workers, maids and foreign contries is where your growth is, it's over.

Bottom line; strategize all you want. Any semi-educated or even thinking American knows where you are at. As liberals, elitists, socialists and communists - all you are after is keeping the cash cow alive, even though the job is done. Much like how unions handle all work projects assigned.

The country doesn't need unions. Union bosses need workers to pay for their fun. Give it up.

Posted by: lycfyg at January 24, 2005 07:31 AM

the blog at http://liberalquicksand.blogs.com

has several excellent articles on unions.

Posted by: Hank Dagny at January 24, 2005 09:10 AM

Funny. All the heroes of 9-11, the firefighters and police, were union members. Want to tell me how you really feel about their work ethic?

Before unions, people could be worked 10 or more hours a day, 6 days a week, in whatever kind of miserable conditions employers felt like offering. You have unions to thank for 40 hour workweeks, two days off per week, and living wages. Experience has long shown that employees making a living wage contribute tremendously to economic growth, and that employers freed of constraint exploit their employees.

You complain about teachers' unions, but maybe the quality of our education would improve if it wasn't every state's dead last priority for funding. If you want better quality teachers, try wrapping your head around the idea that something is wrong when a 5th year teacher makes less than the starting wage of an airline stewardess. Why should teachers, alone out of the professions, work without regard to wages?

Posted by: natasha at January 24, 2005 09:06 PM

Natasha, let's destroy you one item at a time.
1)The union doesn't protect the good (cops or line-workers), but the bad ones. And government union employees cannot strike legally, so why are they paying union dues? The money is legalized theft by the union bosses and ultimately to the Democratic Party.
2) I didn't say unions were not needed ever; I said their job is DONE. Stay on subject will you? It's over, but the money is still being taken. One can only ask why? Well, it's free money for nothing to the union leaders. They love Vegas and the Bahamas.
3)Our nation spends double what the #1 nation (Japan) spends and our children finish 16th!
Money and teacher's pay is not the issue; lack of accountability is.
Liberals flock to jobs without the pressure of having to perform; hence our school systems. Now 16th is not good enough and unions, liberals and Democrats are standing in the way of fixing it.
Now Natasha, go to liberalquicksand.com and read all the union articles and try again. I'm here to help you thru the liberal haze. Think logically and not emotionally. You CAN do it!

Posted by: lycfyg at January 25, 2005 09:35 AM

lycfyg - Why don't you go read Nathan Newman or Confined Space, two very well researched labor blogs, to get your answers? They're better qualified to answer your questions. You'll find that although unions have acheived many things in this country, wherever they get pushed back, employers and lawmakers push back their successes. These things have to continually be fought for, particularly workplace safety issues, the special focus of Confined Space.

Regarding teachers, it's clear you don't have the first idea how education is funded or where the money goes. The fact that the bulk of the funding and resulting differential between schools is based on local property taxes leaves a wide gap between wealthy schools that rival the best private institutions, and rural or inner city school districts that struggle for funding. The failure of the federal government to back up its requirements for special education accommodation saps certain school districts of funds that might be spent for other things, often coming out of sport, after school, and elective curriculum budgets. In areas where there is money, in bad years the state legislature may allocate money for capital projects (infrastructure) that can't be spent on salaries or educational materials, no matter how much that might be necessary. Further, textbook manufacturers have a captive market and ripoff schools, as do electronic equipment providers. Teachers have very little say over these issues.

This is the truth: There are classrooms in this country where their books, if they have them, are a decade or more old. There are schools where the teachers have to buy supplies out of their own salaries. There are schools that can't pay teachers enough so they can live anywhere near the neighborhoods they work in, and schools where they have to cut back on support staff to maintain the grounds. Find where in that teachers have any authority over these circumstances.

Regarding corruption, the major unions have been policing their own for a long time, and the last major union corruption scandal was one that was uncovered and punished by union leadership. Their leadership also, and perhaps you've never met any real, live union members (though considering that all our public servants fit that bill, unlikely), works in the same field as their union because that's how they get to be members. You wouldn't know this because, evidently, you only read right wing propaganda.

And this is also the truth: It's rude to go onto someone else's blog and relentlessly, frantically, push and lambast people to read yours. It's desperate, crude, and extremely off-putting. If I need to be saved from anything, I strongly doubt that someone with your bad manners and grandiose sense of self-importance is capable of offering useful assistance.

Posted by: natasha at January 25, 2005 08:28 PM

Pushy lecturing and personal insult in the place of reasoned argument and common courtesy. It's like 2004 in here!

Posted by: Michael at January 26, 2005 03:21 AM

I'm just trying to push back the frontiers of ignorance - and in your case - closemindedness. I will read your suggestions in earnest and if there is anything positive I will let you know.

Quickly - The first line of defense for worker safety is THE WORKER. How about a little self-responsibility? Liberals have a big problem with this - the root problem. If people take responsibility for themselves, they don't need unions, government or liberals.

This 'gap' of money is a myth perpetuated by the teachers unions and you know it. Detroit for instance spends more per student than anyone else in Michigan. The Democrats and unions are swallowing the money. The answer is vouchers to parents - who would decide where to send their kids and the money. Opps, unions and poor teachers hate that fix - they would be out. So the union's position is - let the children suffer because they don't pay union dues (AFT president Albert Shanker quote - don't blame me).
The books are old because the money is being wasted - mostly on school boards, administrators and union officals. It is the teacher's union's fault the money is not available for books. What part of TWICE the money spent don't you get?
I know hundreds of union workers - the thugs are still there.
Lastly, I'm just trying to have an honest discussion and debate. Knowledge from an opposing viewpoint seems to scare you. It doesn't me. Ping away at my site or my blog. I enjoy winning every argument. liberalquicksand.com

Posted by: lycfyg at January 26, 2005 05:27 AM

We’re obviously not going to change lycfyg . He’s clearly got an ideological axe to grind regardless of the facts. For those readers out there that don’t know all the facts, I will attempt to straighten out a few of his misstatements and distortions.

The government now does all the things the unions were sold to the rank and file to do; namely protect the worker from unsafe working conditions.

The only reason the government does any of these things is because of union-led and supported legislation. Most of these laws – or at least their enforcement – are being undermined by Bush and the Republican-led Congress. The only reason they’re able to even attempt this is that unions are far weaker now than when these laws were passed – and the public is far less educated about the benefits of unions, and the fact that most legal workplace protections wouldn’t be there without unions. And, in fact, if unions disappear, so will all of those legal protections, and many others that we just take for granted these days.

government union employees cannot strike legally, so why are they paying union dues?

Only some government union members (e.g. law enforcement) cannot strike legally. Others can. Depends on the state bargaining law. In some states, public employees can’t even form unions (SC and WY) and in half the states, they can’t bargain or sign contracts – and it’s getting worse. In over half the states, public employees aren’t even covered by OSHA, despite the fact that they do more dangerous work than many private sector employees – one of the many reasons that government employees need unions.

Second, strikes are not the main thing (or even the secondary thing) that unions are about. The ability – the right to bargain collectively, to meet your employer on equal terms, to enforce safe working conditions, pay and benefits over and above the meager floor that the laws provide, to be respected as an equal, to be protected against arbitrary discrimination – all of these things are what unions are about.

If people take responsibility for themselves, they don't need unions, government or liberals.

Responsibility is one thing – and it’s a good thing. No one would argue with that. But unions aren’t just about responsibility, they’re also about power – power in the good sense. The individual is no match for even a small company, much less a large corporation. Joining together in unions is the only way that individual workers can have a voice to defend pay, working conditions and benefits – whether legal or bargained. And unions, public interest groups – and government (if the laws are enforced) – are the only means to make sure that management lives up to its corporate and social responsibility not to sicken, injure, kill and exploit workers and the community.

If you’re interested in more information about the need for strong unions, check out Nathan Newman’s WHY UNIONS PAGE

Posted by: Jordan Barab at January 26, 2005 06:29 AM

First of all THANK YOU. You are one of the few liberal sites that leave conservative posts up. Your hero Nathan Newman sorts thru posts before putting them up. I doubt mine will make the cut. So thanks.

Lets just talk facts;
> Unions are shrinking. Why? They are not needed, because the job is done. Your response to this is, and I quote,"most legal workplace protections wouldn't be there without unions." Fine. but that just proves my point. It's DONE.

>Strikes; A strike is nothing but an extortion technique. Why should any 'public servant' be allowed to extort money from the taxpayer? There is no right in our Constitution for 'bargaining'. Here is how it works in capitalism; an employer needs a job done and offers to pay X amount. A free person says - yes or no. Simple.
But stopping capitalism is the root of unions. The idea of ‘organized’ labor and unions were founded by devote socialists and communists. The very essence of unionism can be shown in one of the first union constitutions, written by ‘Big Bill Haywood’ and Eugene Debs in 1905. This is from the Preamble to the IWW (Industrial Workers of the Worlds) Constitution; “It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism. The army of production must be organized, not only for the everyday struggle with capitalists, but also to carry on production when capitalism shall have been overthrown. By organizing industrially, we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old.” (Source; Labor Relations, Third Edition, by John A. Fossum, 1985).

> Responsibility; Again, using your words, "the individual is no match for a company." I ask you, why the fight? Take the job or do not. It is the free man's choice. Any company today that (again using your words) sickens, injures or kills workers will be in court so fast and be broke so quickly that it makes no business sense to do it. Exploitation of the workers is now done by the unions. Their money is stolen for union officials salaries and junkets and for cash for the Democrat Party.

I have several articles and a book section People Haters - UNIONS, on liberalquicksand.com for your review. Feel free to write the site or the blog, my fellow Americans.

Posted by: lycfyg at January 26, 2005 07:21 AM

Jordan - Thanks for that, well put.

lycfyg - You can stay until you become either abusive or tiresome. Currently, you verge on being entertaining. I mean, look at this...

"Any company today that (again using your words) sickens, injures or kills workers will be in court so fast and be broke so quickly that it makes no business sense to do it."

Clearly, you didn't even click over to Confined Space, where one of the front page stories is about a company with a continual pattern of violations, another about an entire industry that profits from exploitation, and yet another about chemical companies suing to keep information about the toxicity of their chemicals (chemicals they knew were dangerous when their workers were exposed to them) from being made public. See, that's the kind of bold-faced ignorance that's just laughable, in it's own special way.

Posted by: natasha at January 27, 2005 01:43 AM

I will never be abusive.
I see you passed over my proof on how unions are a communist-based organization. The symbol on the USSR's flag was the hammer and sickle, signifying the workers - whose backs and no chance of advancement - communism was based.
I never said there were no immoral companies or people. But, again, you never addressed my main point - a free person chooses where to work.
Chemical companies cannot sue to 'hide information'.
Could you please discuss foundational issues, and stop with the rhetoric?
The main points are;
The union's job is done - why else are they shrinking?
Unions are communist based. Why would any American belong to a communist organization?
A free person chooses where to work - Are you going to now claim that Americans are too stupid to know when a job is unsafe?

Posted by: lycfyg at January 28, 2005 04:33 AM