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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.

Originally posted to FloridaRedneck on Tue Dec 11, 2012 at 02:45 PM PST.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Said by a rich person or their tool; what do (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Oh Mary Oh, mindara

    Working people do to protect themselves against abuse; evil rich people have wrecked or stolen almost everything good in America. Our GOVT doesn't protect us from many abuses because it has been taken over by evil big biz.

    (R's) take those tired memes and shove 'em, Denise Velez Oliver, 11/7/2012.

    by a2nite on Tue Dec 11, 2012 at 03:00:53 PM PST

  •  This is just one of the many myths (14+ / 0-)

    about organized labor that needs to be put into bed. It's probably the most insidious of them all because it ostensibly says unions "had their place at one time".  It pretends that economic royalists have outgrown their penchant for trying to herd us like cattle and are now more liberal-minded than their late 19th and early 20th century progenitors.

    liberal bias = failure to validate or sufficiently flatter the conservative narrative on any given subject

    by RockyMtnLib on Tue Dec 11, 2012 at 03:08:33 PM PST

  •  My mom used to say that (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Oh Mary Oh, mindara

    My mom has always been a liberal politically but is more conservative on union issues. Thankfully, I think I have convinced her of the importance of unions at least at the political level. She saw how good the union treated me when I worked for them and I think that, plus the fact that they played such an important role in getting working class voters to vote for Obama in spite of any racial discomfort made her more supportive of unions than she used to be.

  •  Explained that to my coworker who was fired (9+ / 0-)

    in violation of of union contract over company politics., He had to fight through the complaint process and employer gave in when they were about to face a NLRB hearing. Without a union, there would have been no recourse.

    Explain that to me and my co-workers when our employer was found to be late in funding our retirement plans, using the payroll deductions as a sort of short term loan for cash flow purposes. Explain it to my female co-workers when a few years ago, a newly hired manager was hitting on several women.

    Only people who haven't been needed a union or been in one think the time for them is past.

  •  Outlived their usefulness, huh? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nuclear winter solstice

    Is it just me or is there a trend towards conservatives adopting stock phrases from over the top TV villains?

  •  "corporations have outlived their usefulness" (3+ / 0-)

    is the proper response.

  •  Lamestream Media To Blame... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    There is an excellent piece in today's Commondreams by economics professor Wm. K. Black in which he deconstructs an example of how the New York Times frames it's writing in favour of corporate bankers and against "left leaning economist(s)". IMHO the media are the chief objective the left needs to attain in order to have any chance of surviving the long-term designs of the plutocracy. The ownership of the major media do not share the aspirations of us lumpen prole types(ya think?), they just want to sell ads. If they are not neutralized and control of the public airwaves remains in their hands the cause may be lost. When a situation as egregious as the Koch Bros. bold play in Michigan becomes a "he said, she said" on the six o'clock news it calls for stern counter measures. En garde.

    •  What is so weird is that much of the national (0+ / 0-)

      print and broadcast media are unionized.
      Most of the major media markets and production
      centers and facilities are not in right to work states.

      Unless I am terribly mistaken, every major pundit,
      or tv personality is a member of more than one of
      the related trade organizations. SAG/AFTRA/IBEW
      NABET/ etc. I suppose the 'big names' may abstain
      from joining, or active participation for appearance sake.

      Obviously, some may be precluded contractually,
      even though I believe that coercion to be illegal.

      I would hate to believe that it doesn't matter,
      and that editorial decisions are now completely
      in the hands of those who seek to bind ours.
      Perhaps it was always thus.

      Thanks for all of your efforts.

  •  Unions are becoming more needed than (2+ / 0-)

    they had been for a while there. There always needs to be a balance of power, and things have been very unbalanced against workers for a decade or two now.

    But people who have not been around that long as adults (a greater and greater percentage of people, it seems) don't remember a time before when they were really needed.

    Moderation in most things.

    by billmosby on Tue Dec 11, 2012 at 09:47:43 PM PST

    •  perhaps if labor history, or even just turn-of-the (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      century (to the 1900s) history was just on the radar at all...but I recently finished my degree among people half my age and saw things like this: in a classroom full of 'future teachers of America' and after reading the assigned children's book in a class about children's literature, it became apparent through the discussion that although the book began 'just before the Civil War' and ended around the aforementioned turn-of-the-century...No one in class knew when the story had taken place. (Except me, and the mantra in that class from the teacher to me was- "no, not you- let's see who else knows...)

      Finally, after some consideration of the question: "Okay, who can tell me when the Civil War was?" the boldest student ventured the most reasonable guess of the day..."1781?"
      Yeah, kid- nice try. I repeat, this was after reading the assignment.

      Less sophisticated readers may experience initial confusion because of the author's technique of using a flashback to begin the story, but by the emotional conclusion, all is made clear.
      The metaphor was one of hand's shaking hands across time back to Lincoln, and these students were upper-level soon-to-be-teachers. They should have more understanding than an eleven-year-old.
      Where has our history education gone?
      •  Gone to graveyards, every one.... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        nuclear winter solstice

        not too many remember that, either.

        "When will they ever learn?"

        Good question.

        One might imagine that stories about the days when powerful unions became something of a gratuitous hindrance to the economy from time to time have something to do with the less positive image of unions today among quite a number of people. But I think from what you have written, there is not even that knowledge out there anymore.

        I'm talking about the period when unions and company management came to agreements which were overly costly because the companies could just pass the costs on to consumers. Then that gravy train slowed down but they all forgot to notice.

        I'm also talking about the days when unions battled each other more than they battled management, such as at the U of Mich hospital I worked at as a student in the late 60s and early 70s. I was AFSCME and there seemed to be frequent beefs between us and various crafts unions. The police, who were both Teamsters (command) and something else I forget what exactly (cops in general), also would get mixed up in it from time to time when called on to regulate picket line disputes. Then there was the time my first wife's aunt's clerical workers union walked out on the Teamster's local she worked for...

        I'm not too sure any of that last paragraph had a huge impact on anything but the image of unions, but that doesn't help.

        I don't mean to sound anti-union with all that, just kind of putting my own observations in. There will always be squabbles.

        Moderation in most things.

        by billmosby on Wed Dec 12, 2012 at 07:29:20 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  we were in Ann Arbor in the late '60s, early '70s (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          too, although I was the child of college students at the time. Times have changed an awful lot (we arrived in NH the winter that Dartmouth started accepting women as students...72/73) and my husband has an AFSCME pin although now with 35 years experience he can't seem to get a job that pays what he's worth without an engineering I understand what you are describing. I'm just so appalled at the idea that the people who might be teaching my grandchildren are so woefully undereducated as to not know anything about any American history. Is our children learning? Coulda fooled me once.

          •  Hee, hee! Putting food on their family... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            nuclear winter solstice

            here's that poor single mother now.

            I found it hard to believe that W gets paid for speaking. Then I remembered that many people have made money from their bloopers. lol.

            Moderation in most things.

            by billmosby on Wed Dec 12, 2012 at 12:25:08 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  OH, and about the value of an engineering degree.. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            nuclear winter solstice

            My newest one, a master's in Mechanical Engineering, dates from 1977. It's as though it never existed these days. No way I'd be able to get a job with it at my current age of 63. If I ever need to come out of retirement (again), I'll either have to go back to my $11 an hour online tutoring job or go into business for myself. The tutoring job was as an independent contractor, so it entailed quite a bit higher tax load. And a high level of stress, to boot.

            So I'm learning skills related to being a webmaster (and working as a volunteer one for my bicycle club) just in case.

            Moderation in most things.

            by billmosby on Wed Dec 12, 2012 at 12:29:08 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  cool. my guy has his own shop in the garage with (0+ / 0-)

              a Bridgeport, Fanuc lathe, and all the smaller stuff that goes with it. He made stuff for everything from motorcycle sprockets to space satellite holders. But 2008 killed all the business upstream from us and when we figured out where the money went it took him another ten months to find a shop job. (The goal is to get him back there-the sticking point is the health insurance.)
                   So now he could be doing a fantastic job of unscrewing years of mix-n-match paperwork and design changes at the company- the kind of stuff that you really have to know what's going on in the hands-on stuff, but instead all he can do is bring 'em the first piece and say...see? It's not just that he could use the pay and prestige- they want someone younger because they think he will leave them too soon (he's 57) and they just don't see what he's worth when he's wearing a green uniform instead of dockers and an oxford shirt.

  •  Thank you for this. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    The pro-union argument I see most often here in Michigan is that without unions we wouldn't have all of those things you mention.

    While that's obviously true, and we should all be thankful for that, my problem with solely using that argument is that I feel it misses the point about why unions are still needed.  Talking about what they did for employees in the past is important, but it helps reinforce the idea that "Well, unions had their time, but we have all those reforms that they worked for now, so we don't need them anymore."

    Problem is, as few people mention (though I'm glad you did), those laws aren't safe anymore. Any and all of them can be repealed.  And I don't believe for one second that they WOULDN'T be repealed if there weren't unions to fight against it.

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