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Tuesday Talk: Who will stand up for workers?

June 12, 2012 By Joe Sheeran, Communications Director

Folks on all sides of the policy debate are trying to analyze what the Wisconsin recall election means for the union movement’s future. We can say with certainty, union-gained rights built the U.S. middle class. From the Iron Range to our media outlets—and a lot of jobs in between—unions help set fair salary standards, bringing economic equity and workplace safety in post World War II America. Meanwhile, the 30-year attack on unions has closely correlated with growing economic inequity.

As we begin to lose basic workplace rights, who’s going to stand up for the average American worker in unions’ absence?  

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  • KJC says:

    June 12, 2012 at 7:24 am

    Sadly, as unions have been diminished, there has not been another means for the average worker’s voices to be heard.
    I think back to the beginnings of the American Middle Class.  There was Henry Ford, no altruist by anybody’s recollection.  He was putting America on wheels… but there was trouble.  He did something about it.  That was?  In 1914 he doubled workers wages at his plants, and reduced the work week to 40 hours. 
    There was a controversy?  You bet.  He explained?  That for Our System to prosper, workers had to be able to afford what they made, and also have the time to enjoy it.
    I couldn’t have said it better myself, and so much of “American” business has operated against those principles.  Sending jobs overseas, slashing wages and benefits and workers have longer hours now, just to hold on. 
    For a while it looked like OCCUPY might be that new force, but (right now) it doesn’t seem to be gaining any strength.
    If you look at the Middle Class share of our national income… it’s gone down in lockstep with union membership over the last 30 years.  Which is why every worker was affected, whether they were in a union, or not.
    And that lost income share?  It went right to the 1%.  Just like the recent study that showed 93% of the income growth in this recovery has gone to the 1%.  When will the people take that on, instead of taking-the-bait to “beat up” on each other?  We the People.

  • Mike Downing says:

    June 12, 2012 at 8:24 am

    Well trained & educated individuals can stand up for themselves.

    Unions have always been the crutch for individuals who have not taken advantage of their educational opportunities or do not have the desire to use their God given talents to the maximum.

    Individuals need to become responsible for their education, become lifelong learners and “skate to where the puck will be”, i.e. computer programmers/IT grads rather than buggy whip manufactures.

  • Sue B says:

    June 12, 2012 at 8:26 am

    Who will stand up for the workers if there are no unions?  No one, that’s who.  Why do you think that unions were formed in the first place?  It wasn’t just to shake down the poor defenseless corporations.  Workers were forced to work long hours, often in horrible, unsafe working conditions, for low pay, while companies made huge profits.  It was a matter of survival for workers to band together to fight for better conditions and pay.  These improvements helped all workers, not just those in union jobs, and gave us a strong middle class.  You can thank unions for decent pay, the 8-hour work day, the 40-hour work week, vacations, sick leave, pensions, etc, things we take for granted today.  Many fought and died for rights and now they are being given away without a fight.  People have short memories or no knowledge of history. 

    My own family’s union experiences only make me more supportive of unions.  My immigrant grandparents on the Iron Range were able to survive and raise their families thanks to the unions.  I was a public employee and union member for my working career.  My husband was hired as a union employee, but some years later the company succeeded in getting rid of the union by making lots of promises to its workers if they would decertify.  Too many younger workers foolishly believed them, even though older workers tried in vain to convince them otherwise.  Things were OK for about a year, until the company cut pay, increased hours, added weekend work days.  Our income went down every year for a decade, and my husband had to work much longer hours, but there was no one to stand up for them because THERE WAS NO UNION.

  • Paul Price says:

    June 12, 2012 at 8:39 am

    I have always found it bizarre that we can extol and advocate for people to come together as a community, a church and denomination, as shareholders, as manufactures associations and groups, lobbying groups, political parties, corporations, partnerships, etc., because of the power of numbers, but when it comes to people participating as an economic interest group in unions, then, well, that is to be suppressed and denigrated as un-American,well, what balderdash.

  • Ross says:

    June 12, 2012 at 8:53 am

    It seems that your scope of employment experience is pretty narrow to be saying things like you have here.  Outside of management jobs, most people who stand up for themselves, by themselves, are let go from their jobs pretty quickly.

    If you haven’t seen this kind of thing happen, then you really haven’t spent much time in the blue collar workforce. If you did, you’d know that the behavior you are advocating would be futile, which is why most non-union shops oppose unions because they’ve been listening to the constant parroting of “If you can’t do it yourself it can’t be done,” kind of conservative mantra, designed to keep the workers down, and the unions out.

  • Ross says:

    June 12, 2012 at 9:11 am

    When things get bad enough, the people themselves will rise up again.  Occupy started because of Scott Walker in Wisconsin, and it took the powers that be by surprise.  You can bet the Walker method won’t be done move by move again without some major tweaks, so watch out for something even more insidious, because if its tried again, say in Minnesota, not only will Minnesota rise up, the nation will follow, and in greater numbers.  And corporations will lose.  But despite their billions in profits, they’re gamblers at heart, clearly, and they’re willing to take a chance on being defeated, taxed, and regulated to the hilt.  And in the mean time they’ll laugh all the way to the bank until somebody stops them.  That somebody will have to be us.

  • Mike Downing says:

    June 12, 2012 at 10:35 am

    Working in an International Harvester foundry (VERY hot core room), cleaning & painting bridges, cleaning milks vats with hot water & chemicals, etc. made me know that I didn’t want to do that for a lifetime. I worked my butt off to get a B.S. & M.S. in Chem Eng so that I could fully use my God given talents and support my family very well.

    Unfortunately, far too many Americans have been taking easy classes and getting degrees in areas where there is little job opportunity. Chinese and Indian students see the future is in math & the sciences. They will become the economic powerhouses of the future.

  • KJC says:

    June 12, 2012 at 10:58 am

    Mr. Downing is probably pretty smart.  But?  He has confused what might be a good individual strategy with how you prosper as a whole nation.
    If even a significant proportion of the working populace took his advice?  Those same professions and locations would be overrun rapidly… and the very good-life salaries he asserts would necessarily occur would quickly erode.
    “No man is an island.”  That’s the real lesson. I say?  Too many Americans are pretending that they some how can be… and from there it’s not too far to “I’ve got mine, and I don’t want to pay for you.”  With each step getting farther and farther from the common good, and We the People. 
    A mere “me, me, me and my success” strategy?  You make yourself a inevitable pawn in an ugly game of divisive politics that will continue the pain of our nation and its citizens. 
    I’m not taking that bait…

  • Mike Downing says:

    June 12, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    KJC, how much more of my stuff do you think is fair & equitable? It appears that the “me, me, me” has been coming from the people who want free stuff from others. We, the silent majority, are no longer buying it as well.

  • Mike Downing says:

    June 12, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    KJC, Nancy Pelosi’s daughter made a short video describing the “free stuff” the “me, me, me” crowd wants more of:

  • William Pappas says:

    June 12, 2012 at 5:40 pm

    Mike, once again you’re dead wrong.  Today, I observed several construction projects our company is conducting, watching well trained union tradesmen working very hard, very smart with a high degree of skill and training.  In fact, unions impose a great deal of order and predictability on our construction projects, traits that help them finish safely on time and within budget.  The unions did not serve as a crutch for these men and women, they served as training and instructional institutions that have safe gaurded the ability of construction workers to practice their trade in dignity.  That means, when they are retired, they’ll have the means to live out their lives, procure health insurance and generally contribute to our society.  Their bodies will be largely used up, but they’ll have a pension and a deep sense of pride in their incredible life long accomplishments.  Even now, the electricians are being pressured to give up thier weekend time and a half pay, which is a standard of our workforce that has allowed families to spend more time together and workers to be compensated for loosing such quality time.  It is a right which most companies give that was fought for and won by union activism.  The same is true for the 40 hour week, paid vacation and pension benefits.  Unions are not a crutch for the weak, they are a force that projects and protects basic human rights in the workplace.

  • ChristeenStone says:

    June 12, 2012 at 5:55 pm

    Strange I just asked that Question of a resident from Wisconsin who is non-union
    and feels Walker was right. He is non -union and labor level and he says his pay is equivalent to Union.  I asked why he then felt the idea they are over paid an need to lose bargaining rights was okay, if they weren’t privileged. He shrugged and didn’t answer. I told him of my experience in 1940 when I came from a right to work state and was making 54 hours 6 days per week for $10. I went to work at the W T Grant store 42 hours per week and $20 doing basically the same job.
    Grant’s was not Union but paid Union wages to keep good help. Then we didn’t have the big CEO’s who do not value, or respect their employees, so they have their influence lobbying staff to convince their getting cheaper employees and pay less. Not to have to compete at a fair living wage.

  • KJC says:

    June 12, 2012 at 6:11 pm

    Thanks for proving my point Mike.  No sooner do I mention the Common Good and you respond with?  “How much do you want of mine.”  Like this is only personal, and you’ll have to pay for somebody else.  I (personally) don’t want a dime of your money.  You owe taxes for? The price of civilization.  Again, thanks for proving my point… that the “me, me, me and my success are all that matters” crowd will always pull some version of the “I’ve got mine, and I don’t want to pay for anybody else” game.  If you think that is the way to a fulfilling life…

  • David Culver says:

    June 13, 2012 at 2:43 pm

    “Who will stand up for the worker’s,” you ask? No one, if the workers don’t stand up for themselves. Hearing of union members in WI who voted for Scott made my blood boil! If they don’t want to accept the challenges of union membership, then they should be willing to give up the benefits of union membership as well.Union rank-and-file are going to have to revitalize the labor movement themselves by throwing off the oppresive yoke of inept and corrupt union leadership. Then, when they’ve proven they’re serious about trade unions, people like me might join them in their struggle. Until then, forgetaboutit!