I ride with a group of guys every Sunday to a small non-chain owned breakfast hole-in-the-wall north of us to get a little fresh air and some grits and eggs. The food is great and it’s always crowded if you come after 9:00 am.
All of us are old enough to collect Social Security and most old enough for Medicare. We talk about a mixture of gun shows, cars, motorcycles and politics. The few anti-Obama types (nobody liked Romney) have been almost silent in disbelief after the election, but we try not to rub their noses in it to keep the gang together. So far it’s working.
The conversation lately has turned to the union activity around Hostess and the political shenanigans in Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. I have been on both sides of the bargaining table having been a business owner and at one time a union firefighter. The progressives in our group have attempted to explain to the anti-union types the benefits of organized labor when it works in concert with management to create a healthy work environment. Everybody wins. The employees by receiving a living wage and benefits are happier, healthier and tend to work longer. The owner has a successful business that provides him with more than a living wage for his hard work and an asset he can sell or pass to his heirs if he decides to retire. The arrogant employer who claims to have “built that” would have nothing but an idea without employees to build, buy or sell his product and the short sighted employees would have nowhere to work if not for the owner’s investment and desire to create a business for the long haul. It is always a mutual effort between labor and management. When either becomes too greedy then everybody loses. When everybody loses, America loses.
Not often mentioned in conversation with anti-union types are the invisible benefits they’ve derived for free from the hard work and sacrifice of their union brothers and sisters. There would be no child labor laws, minimum wage, forty hour/five day work week, overtime pay, paid vacation, maternity leave, retirement benefits, pensions, Social Security, Medicare, civil rights movement, fair labor laws, ADA, OSHA, EEOC, NLRB and even voting rights just to mention a few, if not for organized labor sacrificing life and limb. There is no compelling reason for a purely capitalistic corporation to extend additional benefits to their work force if it doesn’t enhance the bottom line or executive packages. Corporations and capitalism are about making money and not to make any one individual happy. Just ask WalMart. Wages and benefits have always been negotiated only when the business owner or corporation and employees realize the mutual relationship between labor and management. We have lost that relationship. Today some corporations regard employees as tools as they would any other asset. Tools are a dime a dozen. If a tool breaks their attitude is to simply replace it with another tool. Yes, productivity may suffer temporarily, but middle management can crack the whip and make up the difference. If the tool isn’t available locally at the right price then they shop offshore. Employees need to make sure they don’t kill the golden goose as well. It’s always a very delicate balancing act where emotions and egos can become land mines during negotiations.
It is no coincidence that when unions and the organized labor movement come under attack these hard fought rights and benefits disappear. Lockstep in a race to the bottom for the middle class over the past forty years I have witnessed this steady decline of organized labor, wages, benefits and individual rights. There is a very good reason labor unions have traditionally backed Democratic candidates and Wall Street money and corporations back Republicans. We all know where the money is, but they learned on November 6 where the votes are.
The long term intent of a greedy corporate America is to create a coerced, indentured work force with little or no option but to work as many hours as necessary to eat. A house, an education, retirement and a better life for you and your children are optional. You work hard, pay your bills and die early with little or nothing to pass to your heirs. That’s their American Dream. Ours as progressives should be just the opposite. We have come too far to allow our American Dream to die.
So when your conservative family or friends tell you that “unions have outlived their usefulness”, as some in my breakfast group proclaim, feel free to remind them we would have single party rule (i.e. dictator) if it were not for organized labor. It wouldn’t matter if they called themselves Democrats or Republicans big money has a corrosive effect on the people in the executive, legislative and judicial branches at all levels of government. Without some pushback from organized labor the middle class would have even less voice than we have today. We survived an election where billions of dollars were thrown at an electorate to buy an election. The wealthy are playing the long game. They will live longer and realize a greater return on their investment far longer than that hard working teacher in New York, plumber in Minnesota, roofer in Florida, firefighter or police officer in Alabama and Georgia. They will wait us out. If they can raise the Medicare age every few years or so it benefits the private insurance industry (the wealthy) and no one else. It does nothing to stabilize Medicare or bring down costs for us. Do not let it happen. The safety net is there for a reason. If we were to lower the eligibility age for Social Security and Medicare there would be an explosion of job openings when tired, old middle class workers leave in droves to another job they have always wanted or retire because they are just too broken to continue. I am speaking from personal experience. Just sayin.