Unions are often blamed for our economic problems, but I would beg to differ. I do not believe unions are the cause of the economical problems facing these United States in part nor in whole I believe the fault lies in corporate greed and the influx of monopolized corpacracy businesses. Corpacracy in my view can best be defined as government run by big business.
Labor in America has long been described as a stabilizing force in the national economy and a bulwark of our democratic society. Furthermore, the gains that unions have been able to achieve have brought benefits resulting in a stable middle class, direct and indirect to the public as a whole. It was labor unions who spearheaded the reduction of the work day from 12 hours to 10 hours (1820) then to 8 hours a day today. It was labor, for example, that spearheaded the drive for public education for every child. The labor movement, indeed, has served as a force for American progress. As stated in the Trade Union history:
Trade unions really exploded in the United States during the nineteenth century with the founding of the first national union. The National Labor Union created in 1866 did not adhere exclusively to any particular kind of worker. Although this union crumbled and made no significant gains for workers’ rights, its founding was an important precedent. Next, the Knights of Labor was founded in 1869. Its membership peaked to around 700,000 members, with some of their key issues being child labor opposition and demands for an eight-hour day. The most famous American union was probably the American Federation of Labor (AFL), founded in 1886 by Samuel Gompers. At its pinnacle, the union had about 1.4 million members. The AFL’s working principle was “pure and simple” unionism, which sought immediate work environment improvements such as wage increases and enhanced safety within the workplace.
This brief history of more than 100 years of the modern trade union movement in the United States can attest to the identify and principle trends of a “century of achievement.” In such a condensation of history, episodes of importance and of great human drama must necessarily be discussed far too briefly, or in some cases be relegated to a mere mention. Moreover the plight of the union can be compared with the struggles our founders faced when trying to win equality and rights among men [white] (later blacks and women). In my opinion the idea of the union may be compared with the Magna Carta (1215). This document is the first written testament and real evidence of the uprising of the common person against authoritarian rule.
What is clearly evident, however, is that the working people of America have had to unite in struggle to achieve the gains that they have accumulated during the past century and a half. Improvements did not come easily. Unions, as the core of their activities, have had to struggle to win the right to represent workers in the collective bargaining process. Some unions such as the trade unions struggled against bias and discrimination, the working men and women of America have built a trade union movement of formidable proportions, only to have the walls come slowly tumbling down. The teamsters and United Auto Workers unions have also met opposition with bloody results. In my mind corporate owners, CEO’s and upper level management always look first, not to the customer (shoddy products bear this out), not to the worker, but to themselves, and to the stockholders. I am not advocating that shareholders, CEOs and owners should not be rewarded for their investments (I want my investments to make money too) but when thousands of workers are laid off and CEOs are compensated with million dollar bonuses, something is awry.
Today the most substantial issues of the labor movement are wages and benefits, mainly health insurance (another whole topic). Corporate America and the Right Wing political side want people to believe unions are the bane of all the economic woes in this country. If only labor would take cuts then maybe we could get something done. Jim Vote stated in the recent petition to “Reform Michigan Government Now” and the recent decision by Volkswagen to build a manufacturing plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., rather than Michigan, only prove that organized labor is a significant roadblock to prosperity (Mackinac Center). It proves nothing of the sort. It only proves Corporate business can always find people who will work for less than somebody else, because either their economic needs are less, or their standard of living is lower. What it really shows is that if we try hard enough we can lower the standard of living for everyone. And everyone will think they are the better for it. Talk about the dumbing down America
On another thought, it may be stated that the downfall of the union started when Ronald Reagan fired all the Airline Traffic Controllers. The firing of the air traffic controllers weakened not only the air traffic controllers’ union, but put a giant crack in just about every union across this country. Today less than 25 percent of all workers in the U.S. are unionized. Today 90 percent of all manufacturing jobs are sent overseas. Is there a connection? What have the corporations done to help guarantee decent wages, quality health care, and reasonable pension for its workers? Oh, that’s right they compensated the CEO’s who often drove the company to near bust while be rewarded with 10’s of millions in bonuses.
So, when people argue that unions have been the ruin of this country, ask the person, where the money is? More often than not it will be hidden in some off shore investments such as Halliburton. Note how Dick Cheney justifies this with his response to a question asked by Sam Donaldson of ABC news about Halliburton circumventing the U.S. law in regards to business practices. Cheney stated, “No, no, it’s provided for us specifically with respect to Iran and Libya.” If you’re a big multinational company that’s able to incorporate around the world, you don’t have to worry. In other words if you are bigger than the government, the government can’t do anything to you. (This Week (ABC News), July 30, 2000.)Rarely, if at any time has any union controlled the inflow or outflow of money so dramatically that people have lost jobs over such actions. Indeed, often workers have taken concessions to help make sure people are not laid off. I do not believe the same can be said so convincingly about CEO’s. More often than not the money is in control by the company CEO’s and the owner.
Look what happened just a few years ago. While corporate CEOs, banking CEOs and Wall Street Executives lined their pockets with tens of millions of dollars in salaries and bonuses tens of thousands of people were laid off. Look at where the jobs are being sent and at very little savings to Americans. Sure, we can make an argument for Wal-Mart’s discounts, a chief factor in Wal-Mart’s discount prices, however, is cheap labor. So let’s not be fooled by discount stores saving people money.
Most of all, people should pay particular attention to the economic outcomes of these corporate trends. We will always have the less fortunate, the mentally ill, the mentally impaired, or the aged, who can no longer work, who may not have the economic means to buy at an upscale market. We will always have the poor who need discount prices. They have always been with us and will continue to be with us, union or no union. If people truly believe unions are responsible for the economic decline of this country then I don’t believe they really understand the market system. The argument that unions have cost businesses money and profits is about as weak as saying the tree caused the accident.
Being a member of one of the strongest unions in the country (the National Association of Educators and a prominent union in the state of Michigan, I have come to appreciate what unions have done for me and the working class. Corporate ideology is slowly casting its shadow our way and look at the mess we are in. Look at the economic tailspin our nation is in, look at where the distribution of wealth is, Look at the unemployed. Look at the homeless, and look at the uninsured. No, unions cannot be blamed for all these ill-wills in these, our United States. Unions have rarely if ever controlled the purse strings of distribution of wealth; the plight of our nation’s economic woes lies squarely in the hands of corporate America. Our economy has taken a beating and the total expense may never be known. In no way, however, can we blame this on the unions. I believe Unions are a necessity, if for no other reason than to keep corporate America honest.
A Short History of American Labor
This Week (ABC News), July 30, 2000. (n.d.). Retrieved 6 13, 2009, from Halliburton Watch: http://www.halliburtonwatch.org/about_hal/iran.html
Trade Unions LSE Library
Devine, J. the History of Labor Unions. Ezine Articles
http://www.webcrawler.com/clickserver April 5, 2009
Vote, J. (2000). Out of Bounds Mackinaw Center for Public Policy