Under the Bush Administration, unions found themselves once again under siege. The last 29 years have been a battle against corporate lobbyists, Right-Wing radio commentators, and congressmen-turned-lobbyists. Many in the public, including many Democrats have forgotten the debt we all owe to the literally dead and wounded union warriors in the long struggle for the 10-hour day, then the 8-hour day, the two-day weekend and the minimum wage.
The fight most aptly was typified by a comment by George W. Bush, a man who was born with a silver foot in his mouth, who never worked an honest day in his life and who now is worth between $20 million and who knows—a billion? He said it to a woman in Omaha, Nebraska, a place that understands Republicans and a state that always votes for Republican presidents. She said that she was working three jobs. And he said…wasn’t that fantastic that she was doing that…that it was uniquely American!
And it is. In most other areas of the world, where industry and technology have created modern post-industrial societies people work fewer hours—about 35 hours per week. They have health care, unemployment of about 40% of income for up to as many as 48 months, twice as much annual vacation as we do and retirement benefits that assure that no one who worked a lifetime ends up in poverty.
American corporate CEOs do not go home to a martini or to their yachts and forget about you. They work 24/7 trying to figure out ways to cut costs. You are their principal cost. Labor is the biggest cost of almost every business. Some owners and managers, the enlightened ones, consider it an investment. The others…and they’re not all barbarians…consider you a nuisance. Raw materials and machines and even most distribution channels do not talk back, are never late or have sick kids.
You are a necessary part, but you are human and subject to variations in your life…sickness, the birth of children…unfortunate occurrences like that. They don’t want trouble. And unions are big trouble.
Companies do not want unions because that trouble, those problems, these humans interfere with the even tenor of their operation. Labor unions bring an organization to those problems. Unions mean loss of control. One of the big reasons people start businesses is to have control.
That is the essence of the labor-management struggles that go on to this day. Let’s quickly review the history. Before 1900, the U.S. workforce had some children as young as 7 working 12 hours a day. There were all kinds of accidents with no compensation for either crippling injury or death of a breadwinner…or a child. Then came the early unions, beaten by police, by thugs, by the national guard and the military because they were asking for a 10-hour day and a 6-day week. They got that in the early 20th Century, and a 6-day week.
Then came the Depression and everyone was out of work, or barely employed and from that came flirtations with Communism and Socialism because, until FDR, no one seemed to care. Then came FDR, a sainted image to most Ameicans. He pulled us out of the Depression, into a serious recession and then enabled a country that mobilized for war.
But before that war, in the 1930s, unions continued to fight. The steel industry and the United Auto Workers fought to keep their jobs and make a wage that they could simply live on. And they began to lobby Washington and the Democrats for legislation that would give them some protection. The result was the Wagner Act and other legislation that made it illegal to fire workers for trying to form a union. And so we arrived at the 8-hour day and the 40-hour week that we have today.
Unions were there all the way. The AFofL, the CIO, now joined, the UAW, the Teamsters and the United Mine Workers, whose members died not only at their jobs underground but from union busting thugs hired by the coal companies.
And then, after the war, as business grew stronger, labor unions grew stronger, with a new-found friend in Harry Truman. A man of the people, he was used to telling corporations how to act on behalf of American citizens. Roosevelt had made him his point-man to see that military contractors did not become rich at the expense of the American soldier or the American war effort.
When railroads and their unions remained adamant for such a long time that it endangered the economy, Truman took over the railroads and settled a serious strike by forcing both sides into arbitration. This was unlike Reagan who simply broke the union of an overworked, understaffed air controllers union during his term.
Between 1946 and 1973, industrial production doubled in the United States. It was no coincidence that workers incomes doubled and the great middle class, the greatest affluence for the greatest number of people…ever…was created with union labor. And not just union labor.
Anyone who has worked in a large union corporation knows that everyone benefits…even non-union employees, and there are often many. Corporations do not have to unionize nor do they want to unionize, all their workers. So they pay them and give them benefits very close to union benefits. The non-union workers in that corporation and other similar corporations get those benefits without a scratch or a scar.
The bad news, however is that in 1949, over 3 in every 10 workers belonged to a union and had union protection. By 1968, it had dropped to 28% and, after the Reagan “revolution” it is now a mere 12.5%. And that is sad, because without unions, there is no organized effort to rally against what we know is a stronger effort in the continuing battle. Wages have not increased for workers at all in the last five years. And that was before the Bush Great Recession.
It is important that you fight back. Here’s how important it is. In the last election, union participation in the overall vote was 25%. They are only 12.5% of the population. That means that union members went out of their way to vote…for themselves of course, but they already have some job security, health care, retirement…and for you, their fellow citizens. Unions are all about jobs, wages, security, and working conditions.
And what happened to that trust and that mutual effort between unions and the people? In Massachusetts, perhaps now going from one of the most enlightened populations in the country to one of the dumbest, elected a former nude model, a pickup truck pretty boy to the Senate.
Yes, he was running against a cardboard cutout of a candidate. But she would have voted with the unions and with the people and in your best interests instead of with the corporations…which is what will happen now.
Scott Brown calls himself number 41. What does that mean? It means he will be working hard as the 41st and deciding vote to prevent legislation. He will work to defeat any legislation that the already obstructive, and anti-worker, anti-American Neoconservative Republicans try to prevent. And this will be legislation that the Democrats and the unions try to pass on your behalf.
Labor leaders today, like Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO and Jimmy Hoffa, are well-educated attorneys, solid economists who understand the relationship of a good workforce to continuing American prosperity. But they still fight an uphill battle against a lobbyist-led force of major corporations, creating a long-term battle against the American worker.
It was just business as usual for corporations as the Bush Administration took office. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, wife of (then) Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did her best to see that nothing was done to help labor. She was a former Heritage Foundation employee, and the daughter of a Chinese shipping magnate, who recently gave her a small gift of $25 million earned no doubt from his Chinese Communist–connected shipping business.
Do you think that former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao wants to see more trade with China, and wants to see more jobs and more manufacturing go to the part of the world where it will enrich her father so that he may possibly give her an additional $25 million gift? One of her first acts as Labor Secretary was to cut the staff of investigators in the Labor Department by 150.
Examples of her work are illustrative of her political philosophy. The GAO recently conducted an investigative sample of ten cases of serious employee grievances that were brought to the attention of the Bush Administration’s Labor Department. 9 of the 10 were mishandled. One involved underage children working with saws and meat grinders. Another involved workers at a large private school who failed to receive $200,000 in overtime pay.
It is interesting to note that in one of her biographies, it says that she “worked to improve overtime regulations for workers as well as update regulations related to workers’unions disclosure of financial information.” Of course, as you just read above, the first is clearly either incorrect as to that situation or an out-and-out lie. As regards “disclosure of financial information,” isn’t that what you ask for when you want to indict someone for fraud? Wouldn’t that be the first thing you would try to get if you wanted to put a union out of business?
After leaving Harvard Business School, Elaine Chao worked for the big banks, including Citigroup. Then for the first President Bush. Then she went to the Heritage Foundation, funded by major corporations. She went back to the Heritage Foundation after leaving the Labor Department…in ruins.
The Bush Adminstration left the entire economy in ruins. After all the bank failures and the stock collapses and the loss of 7 million jobs in George Bush’s last year in office…on top of all that…in early 2010 came the Supreme Court Decision. THE Supreme Court Decision.
The Supreme Court in one of its farthest-reaching decision ever, has definitively declared that corporations will be allowed to give money within campaign contribution legislation directly to candidates. This means corporations will, in effect, be able to elect their own candidates. Corporations in the U.S. could conceivably have as much as $10 trillion to literally purchase their own candidates at all levels. The Chamber of Commerce has already said that they will.
This means that if you are a mining company and you want to blow the top off of a mountain in Pennsylvania which will destroy the land and water around it, you can buy the politicians and then do it. You could buy the local state senators and representatives, the local member of the House of Representatives, and even the Senators.
Coal Companies, the major lobbying firms on K-Street, the major oil companies and electric utilities companies could buy those politicians. But if they could not, they would simply find their own candidates. They have more than enough money, and about 100 times more than unions would have in order to counter it. Why would all these firms join in? Because once a politician is on the take, he or she is likely to be on the take from everyone.
Corporations are in an ongoing struggle with American workers. Workers have not had an increase in wages for the last 8 years. They have lost millions of jobs to foreign workers, including IT professionals and entire customer service in addition to manufacturing jobs. It is time that we take action to aid unions, promote unions and encourage the development of unions in the American workforce.
The lobbyist funded Neoconservatives and their K-Street lobbying friends, their conservative radio and television shills and their corporate sponsors have already begun to try to cut back on job generation programs. They are pushing for deficit reduction cuts in government, pushing for cuts in Medicare and Social Security. They think that they can get away with anything.
But remember this. At one time corporations had almost total power in this country. At the present, we have social services, desegregated cities, equal opportunit laws, OSHA, ERISA and laws that protect us on all fronts, if they are followed up. Right now, we have 59 Democratic Senators and over 250 solid votes from Democrats in the House, plus a Democratic President. Now all we need to do is to support that engine of democratic organization, the unions. They have overcome much greater odds than we face today.