Ramona's picture

    The Problem with Unions? They're not Corporations


    WARNING: It's Labor Day and I'm feeling the love for labor, so what follows will be totally biased and in no way fair or balanced.  (If you've been wondering what fair and balanced really means, go ask your two-year-old.  It'll make as much sense as any other definition you've ever heard, but it'll sound so much better coming from the mouths of babes.)

    Way back in 2010 when the Supreme Court said yes, indeedy, corporations are people, too, it started a whole new revolution in this country.  If corporations are people then a government of the people, by the people, and for the people takes on a whole new meaning.

    It turns everything we thought about our government, our constitution, and our rights as citizens upside down.  It's as if that one edict from the highest court in the land didn't just water down the rights of actual human individuals, it gave permission to get really creative with applications of that wacky whopper.

    If the most important court in the land could have the last word on the cockamamie notion that corporations could be seen as people, rumor has it that the Republicans, through their surrogates the Koch Brothers, the U.S Chamber of Commerce, FreedomWorks, the Tea Party, and--why not?--the Religious Right, are thinking, Okay! Let's turn that around and push the equally nutty notion that unions aren't people. See how that plays.

     And as we've seen, it plays the way it has always played.  There is a move out there to blame unions for everything Big Business did to the workers in this country. Depressions are notorious for throwing huge segments of a country's population out of work (so too, outsourcing) but somehow, in this depression, the unions--those organizations in business to represent workers--are blamed for everything from mass unemployment to higher health costs to gas rising over $4 a gallon.  They've painted union members as an uppity class with the nerve to think $8.50 an hour is demeaning.  They ought to be happy they even have jobs....

    It's the 1800s to the 1980s all over again. (In 1835, mill kids from 8 to 18 in Paterson, NJ  went on strike for a shortening of their work day from 13 hours to 11, six days a week. They made anywhere from 45 cents to $2 a week, depending on their ages. (They ended up getting 11 1/2 hours, with a cut in pay.)  The papers of the day blamed everyone but the factory owners, from the greedy parents of the little workers, to outside agitators looking for trouble, to the kids themselves, who were "well taken care of and happy" and had nothing to complain about.  Sound familiar?)

    Girl working in textile mill

    For every successful strike (See Bread and Roses), there were hundreds that sucked the blood out of the workers, their families and their communities, with nothing gained in the end.  We've been there, we've done that; the struggle for recognition was necessary, it was painful, it was over.  And now it's back.

    (See US labor history timeline here.  It's not complete (they missed the 1913 Upper Peninsula copper mine strike, for example) but if you can skim it and still manage to miss how unions have changed the lives of workers for the better, there's probably a re-run of "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" somewhere on TV.  Go for it.)

    The most effective way to vanquish an enemy is to render them less than human.  If the powermongers can convince the armies of the night that the people they're destroying are at the bottom of the humanity pit they're on their way to winning the battle.

    1913 Copper Mine Strike, Calumet, Michigan.  The One Man Machine was a mine drill dubbed "The Widowmaker".      


    It used to be the factory rats who got the brunt of it (they, the lazy drunken union-protected potheads), but since our factories have virtually disappeared, the union-busters had to go elsewhere.  No surprise, they went to the last bastion of organized labor, the public service sector.  (An effort already started in 1981, when Ronald Reagan fired nearly 13,000 air traffic controllers belonging to the union known as Patco for striking illegally.)
    What's unprecedented today is the realization that an entire political party has joined the battle against unions.

    What's baffling is the wrath against teachers and the neglect of the needs of cops and firefighters.

    What's frightening is the near-death of collective bargaining, the only working class safety net.

    What's needed again is the passion of our predecessors for enforcing the wants, needs and rights of the laborers in this country  Without that passion the power-mongers win.  We've fought too hard and given up too much to watch the gains we've made just dry up and blow away, disappearing into the air as if they never happened.

    If corporations are people, the workers are not the parasites, but the heart, sinew and bones.

    If our government is the people, ditto: heart, sinew and bones. 

    Never let them forget that.


    (Cross-posted at Ramona's Voices)


    GOP leadership and corporations see salaries as charity. Milton Friedman talked openly about this. If a businessman was forced to pay a minimum wage, in essence it was a form of charity that the business could ill afford. Taken to it's logical conclusion, labor unions were a form of organized crime. Ayn Rand took a similar position.

    The businessman is the proper person to decide where salary ends and charity begins. The businessman will provide the proper salary because it is in his/her best interest. If a proper salary is not provide, workers would be stolen by the competition.

    Because salary is charity, and Christianist religions teach that the churches are the true sources of public charity, any shortfall that a hard-working individual encounters will be covered by the church. In a Christianist view, taxes are theft and a minimum wage is theft. The government thievery prevents churches from performing the proper societal function.

    Mormons will feed people who come to their churches. The Catholic principle of Subsidiary emphasizes the role of the smaller decentralized system over a larger organization like the government in caring for those in need. Subsidiary is the reason that Ryan feels justified in opposing the United States Catholic Bishops.

    Romney and Ryan hold a deep Christianist faith that leads them to the moral conclusion that government aid is an abomination. Charity is the sacred duty of the Church. They cannot support unions because unions are not Christianist organizations.

    Look what I found!  Talk about their embarrassing past:


    (Sorry, I still don't know how to upload pictures from my computer into comments.  Maybe I can't?)


    Wow, that is Melissa Harris-Perry level geeky :)

     Labor Day has become a day to belabor the plight of unions for those few who bother or are motivated to think about it. For the large majority of Americans it is just a meaningless holiday that gives them a final long weekend before Fall sets in and football begins. The Cowboys play Wednesday night. I bet they get a bigger audience then the Democrats do Thursday.  
     I am a union man myself in spirit but my own experience working as an elected union representative just about broke my spirit regarding unions. I'll try to explain.  
     First, an example I experienced first hand. Years ago when I was a railroad employee with fairly strong union representation, good insurance, and a good liveable rate of pay, A General Motors plant nearby went on strike which lasted for a month or so, as I recall. Shortly after they settled with a good contract the R.R. I worked for went out on strike. Our strike lasted a day and a half before an court injunction put us back to work for a thirty day cooling-off period but not before I got a taste of what I see to be the average union  beneficiary 's attitude towards the ideal of unionism is.  As I stood on a picket line a well dressed woman pulled up in a nice late model car, rolled down her window, and proceeded to chew me out for being on strike. It was because without our daily shipment of just-on-time parts to the G.M. assembly plant that her husband worked for, the plant would have to shut down in a few days. She didn't give a rat's ass that we had issues worth striking over, her husband was back at work, she had got hers and could not even fathom any need or responsibility to support us if it would cost her one dime.

    What's frightening is the near-death of collective bargaining, the only working class safety net.


    You mentioned the firing of the Air Traffic Controllers by Reagan. Do you recall any other union supporting their strike? What do you suppose would have happened if the unionized pilots had refused to cross the picket line? Or the trucker's union had let the freight pile up in their loaded trucks because they would not cross the picket line but instead parked and chatted up the flight attendants who would not cross? Or if the unionized teachers and other unionized workers had refused to cross even if it meant delaying a vacation? What if the unionized mechanics has respected their union 'brothers'? What then would Reagan's legacy regarding unions be?

     The Unions were never given anything they were not powerful enough to demand. They got what they took. But then the average union shop employee came to look at the union as their lawyer,  protector of their jobs right or wrong, they began to resent paying dues, they could not be talked into showing up at a meeting, and a hell of a lot of them voted for the Republicans. Not every charge the Republicans throw at the unions is a slander. Unless and until employees come to see different unions as parts of a single cohesive force that they will make some sacrifice for out of necessity that has fostered an ideal they believe in, the unions will have little value except to the Republicans who can use them as a whipping post every election.


    LULU, the story about the GM wife is so telling.  So much for Solidarity.  We hear gripes about the unions not taking care of every issue for every worker and that's reason enough to hate the unions and resent having to pay dues, as if paying dues gives them an exclusive right to 24/7/365 support.  Nowhere else are the requirements so exacting, nor the expectations so rigid.

    About the PATCO strikers:  I asked my husband your question, since he worked in aeronautics at the time, and he remembers that PATCO was a sort of pseudo-union that felt no real solidarity with trade unions.  They didn't ask for help and apparently other unions didn't offer it.  I found this, which sort of confirms that:

    Appalled by the government’s ignorance and unresponsiveness, the controllers realized that they needed to organize, simply for the sake of preserving the baseline safety standards they were expected to uphold. But talk of workplace solidarity didn’t come naturally to controllers. The vast majority of them had learned their craft in the military, and therefore placed a premium on hierarchical order along with individual heroics on the job. Combined with the comparatively high pay grades available to senior controllers in the federal civil service system, the military background of most controllers meant that they weren’t likely to be found belting out “Joe Hill” at any nearby barricades.

    I have an experience in this from a long time before and i think this can be achieved without any hesitations from now on and this is actually important if there are any new modifications in here from now own. 
    Q Spray

    The most effective way to vanquish an enemy is to render them less than human. If the powermongers can convince the armies of the night that the people they're destroying are at the bottom of the humanity pit they're on their way to winning the battle.

    What's the scariest about this is that there are millions more of the 'workers' than there are the powermongers (bully brigade on steroids).

    Unions aren't perfect, but certainly better than the alternative.

    Powerful post and timely. 

    Thanks, Aunt Sam.  It scares me to death that their goal of killing the unions is so effective.  Surely there are plenty of people around who can still remember how terrible it was to be working for someone without any kind of security or feelings of safety or control.  That's the role of unions:  to take care of workers and make sure they're kept safe, they're not being screwed on wages, they're not working overtime for little or no pay, and their grievances are being addressed.  All of those safeguards are eroding and for half the country, that's reason to cheer.  Terrifying.

    Preach it, Ramona! Great post!

    Thanks, Doc.  And thanks for linking to it in your piece about the Bread and Roses strike.

    Unions are people!

    Corporations are people too?

    Latest Comments