Labor Day, The American Worker, and the Legacy of Unions
September 5, 2011
Today is Labor Day, 2011. It’s supposed to be a day that is dedicated to this country’s labor force, a force that brought us through wars and good times. A force that has struggled through one Depression and countless recessions. It was a once booming, vital force throughout this country, at one time making it the greatest manufacturing country in the world.
These days, having been undercut by third world countries that pay their laborers less for a weeks wage than most of our workers make in a single hour. They work under unsafe conditions, for incredibly long hours. If they dare complain, they are fired, if they live in a ‘free’ country, imprisoned if they live in a totalitarian society. Some of them are working as slave laborers. Yet, they produce items for our country and countries throughout the world. Electronics, clothing, tires... you name it. Meanwhile, these corporations that buy from these factories continue to close factories in the USA, saying that they cannot compete if they continue to manufacture here.
There are no labor unions to protect those workers in those countries. They don’t have OSHA to see that they are working under safe conditions. They don’t have child labor laws to protect the young from being exploited. They have nothing to protect the workers at all. And yet, you hear no words of protest from the congress loud enough to get the attention of these corporations. Republicans in the congress are glad to see the demise of big labor in the US. Corporate profits are at a record high, and will continue to go higher with every factory that is shut, every union contract that is violated, or worse not negotiated. Over the last few decades, Unions have been relentlessly painted as the cause of everything is wrong with America. The corporations, and many Pols, accuse the unions of being greedy and corrupt. They say that contracts that were negotiated in good faith are dragging corporations down. In the ‘90s, the corporations successfully lobbied for NAFTA and other free trade agreements, arguing that it would benefit not only Corporate America, but the American Worker too. This was an out and out lie, as factory after factory shut it’s doors, leaving the workers and their unions powerless to do anything about it. The day of the American Worker as a force to be reckoned with are gone. Corporations are paying their executives ridiculous amounts of cash and other compensations, but they claim that they cannot pay for the workers health insurance. They claim that they cannot pay a living wage, yet they continue to rake in record profits. They want Labor Day taken away as a national holiday. They say that Veterans Day and Martin Luther King’s birthday are not legitimate holidays. They say Americans Workers are greedy. They say that we are lazy. It’s time for this talk to end.
Back in 1970, when I was released from active duty, a Marine Veteran, there were plenty of jobs to pick from. Most were good, union jobs, that paid well and offered medical benefits. This was a good time to be a veteran. Even the Republican President, Richard Nixon, supported the unions. He formed OSHA, and the Unions, for the most part, supported him.
Things started to go bad after the war was over, as they often do. The mood started to shift a bit against the Unions. Veterans no longer had good jobs to go to as they were discharged, and unemployment and inflation raged through the country. But the unions stood strong, for the most part, until the end of the decade. Once the jobs started to trickle overseas, things started to get hard for the American worker and the Unions. It continues to get worse with each passing year.
To those of you who applaud the continued shrinking of Unions, I say that if it were not for unions, the conditions that you work under would not be as good as they are today. You certainly would not be making a decent wage if you are a worker, that would be reserved for company officers and very rich stockholders.
I saw one post the other day that said “Did you ever notice that anything that goes against Unions is a win for citizens?” To you, my misinformed friend, I say “Think again”. This country is a better, more civilized place to work, thanks to unions.
So, as you enjoy your final barbecue of the summer and your last gasp of summer fun, remember: You would not be living a life as good as it is, if not for the blood, sweat, and tears of Union Workers that fought to improve conditions and wages for it’s members, and ultimately for all workers in the country. Take a moment to remember, and thank those who fought for you.