Thursday, May 14, 2009


I belong to a union. Because I belong to a union, I will get a pension when I turn 65; and I know how much I will receive. My pension is defined and is not at the mercy of free market forces which have devastated 401K plans across this nation. Because I belong to a union, I will have medical benefits when I turn 65 and will not be totally dependent on Medicare. My benefits do not exist because of the generosity of my employers. My employers fought every provision proposed by the union that would benefit me. However, my union negotiated deal after deal which required my employer to pay into a health and welfare fund that benefitted those who went before me and will benefit those who come after me. Marx thought that the economic gap between the capitalists and the workers would widen to a point where the poor working class would revolt against the rich capitalists and overthrow the system. One of the things that Marx did not anticipate is the rise of trade unions. Unions in this country forced the rich industrialists to share some of their profits. Union members suffered political defeats, ruthless tactics, and even death in order to organize and win for American workers everything from the eight hour day to laws guaranteeing a safe work place. For most of the second half of the 20th century, the upper classes of this nation have fought a sustained war of attrition with the labor movement. When Ronald Reagan busted PATCO, the air traffic controllers union, it signaled the beginning of the end for working class Americans in their struggle to get an equal share of the economic pie. Since that time, the gap between the classes has widened, wages have stagnated, health care costs have skyrocketed, and union membership has plummeted. Around 7% of Americans are members of unions today. It is no accident that as union membership declined, the political influence of labor waned. It's no accident that as the labor movement weakened, jobs were outsourced out of this nation with little if any thought as to the plight of the working person left behind. Warren Buffet is quoted as saying that "there has been a class war going on in this country and my class is winning." The victory he is referring to is in no small manner a result of the wage war against working people and unions that has been going on for the last fifty years. Among other weapons used by the rich and powerful against working Americans has been employing union busting law firms to break the backs of unions and bring in non-union workers. One of their most effective tactics is to make organizing as difficult as possible. Through the use of threats, disinformation, thuggery, and physical violence; American business was able to stop and reverse the growth of unions. American business poured money into the coffers of the Republican Party and were rewarded with legislation and executive orders that made it harder to organize and harder to punish businesses engaging in illegal union busting actions. If FDR opened the door to a strong labor movement through the National Labor Standards Act and the National Labor Relations Board; the Republicans countered with "Right to Work" laws, striker replacement legislation, and packing the Board with pro-business anti-labor commissioners. You can directly track the erosion of buying power and standard of living for working Americans with the erosion of the labor movement. Do you honestly believe that American corporations would be allowed to renege on pensions and medical benefits promised to retired workers if the labor movement had not been decimated? Do you honestly believe that United Airlines would walk into bankruptcy court and abrogate the promise they made to retired workers, some of whom had put over thirty years into the company, if first the unions hadn't been castrated and neutered? To this day I don't understand how anyone with a conscience could patronize United Airlines after they jettisoned retired workers pensions and medical care, while still paying high salaries to the executives running the company. There is a battle raging right now in the halls of Congress to reverse this trend. This could be the last battle and both sides know what is at stake. The rich and powerful capitalist class sees a chance to crush the labor movement once and for all; and the unions see a chance to rebuild and return influence to working Americans. According to "The Nation" magazine, very few Americans even know this is happening; which means this is a battle that will be won by whatever side organizes better and brings political pressure to bear. You aren't going to find much coverage in the "corporate" media because they are at the forefront of breaking the very unions representing their workers. This is a battle designed for the alternative media and the internet; not CNN, NBC, or CBS. So calling all cars, all hands on deck, ollie ollie oxenfree, y'all come, general quarters, it's time for you to get involved. It's time for the same grassroots so crucial to the rise of Barack Obama to rise up now and throw their weight around again. It's time to let every Democrat in Congress know that there is no pass, no equivocating, no gray area. It's time to let them know that no Democrat can claim to be a friend of working Americans who does not support making it easier for workers who wish to join or form a union to do so. The legislation is called the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). It has been introduced in the House and the Senate. It would make it easier for workers to form unions and then gain the power to negotiate with companies over everything from wages to medical care to retraining programs for older workers. The opposition is backed by the usual suspects like WalMart, the US Chamber of Commerce et al; and some not so usual suspects including people like Warren Buffet, who was a big supporter of President Obama. What should send you screaming into the streets is the campaign of opposition carried out by corporations receiving your taxpayer bailout money including Bank of America and the infamous A.I.G. Too many times I am told to stop bitching and propose solutions. OK, here goes. EFCA would increase the power of working Americans. EFCA would mean workers could force WalMart and corporate America to share more of their profit and improve conditions under which Americans work. EFCA would enable unions to fight harder for funds to retrain laid off workers. EFCA would organize workers, making them a more potent political force, allowing unions to counter the financial advantage corporate America currently enjoys in the halls of Washington. It's time to call, fax, send email or snail mail; but contact every Democratic House and Senate member and tell them to vote for EFCA. It's time to inundate the White House with demands that the President throw his support behind this. Believe me, the other side is doing this in spades. This is our window of opportunity. Your children deserve to join a workforce in which they can influence their own fate. You can help them. Will you? What do you think? I welcome you comment and rebuttals. Please send them to

1 comment:

  1. Although I agree with much of what you write, Bernie, I don't buy everything you have said about unions. It's true that corporate executives make obscene amounts of money, and I'm all for knocking their annual salaries down to the level of a couple hundred grand. Unionized labourers, however, have also been overpaid to an extent that is completely out of proportion with global average wage levels. In today's global economy there is no way a company can remain competitive if it is burdened with obligations to pay for the pensions and medical costs of its workers. It is mind boggling that given the current high unemployment levels, there are still unions stupid enough to go out on strike for higher wages. In Toronto the overpaid city garbage collectors have chosen the hottest summer months to go on strike. The city reeks as piles of garbage accumulate because of union greed. Meanwhile Canada's unemployment rate keeps moving steadily upward in lockstep with unemployment rates in the US. Unions have served an important purpose in the past, but now they do more harm than good.