Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Wisconsin - Union Busting: 101

Three people are sitting at a table - - - a unionized public employee, a common taxpayer, and a big corporate CEO. In the middle of the table there is a plate with a dozen cookies on it. The CEO reaches across the table and takes 11 cookies. Then he looks at the taxpayer and says,"Look out for that union guy, he wants a piece of your cookie."

First the GOP complained about all the "government workers", now they want to attack the labor unions. But aren't they (Governor Scott Walker and all the Republican senators) also "government workers"? Aren't the people that the taxpayers support in the $700 billion annual defense budget also "government workers"?

Union busting has been around as long as labor unions. Union busters (rich corporations) have always wanted to pay their workers (and union members) as little as possible. While on the surface, that might seem somewhat "normal". After all, who willingly pays more for something if they don't have to?

If you're shopping at a bazaar, you might haggle with the seller for a lower price. An agreement is usually reached after you make a deal, after you've bargained...much like the "collective bargaining" that labor unions do with corporate and political lawyers.

But corporations go far beyond being just "unwilling" to pay more in wages...many times they will go to almost any length to avoid doing so - political bribery, intimidation, violence, and even resorting to murder. Union busting.

Sometime the corporations would pit one group of people against another to preserve their wealth. If union members went on strike for fairer wages, the corporations would hire "scabs" (desperate unemployed Americans who needed a job to feed their families) to replace striking workers. The old "divide and conquer" tactic - much like the GOP and corporations still use today by pitting the people who still hold jobs against the unemployed.

Robert Reich, America's 22nd Secretary of Labor and a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, agrees with me. Read his piece at the Huff Po: The Republican Strategy - "The Republican strategy is to split the vast middle and working class -- pitting unionized workers against non-unionized, public-sector workers against non-public, older workers within sight of Medicare and Social Security against younger workers who don't believe these programs will be there for them, and the poor against the working middle class."
Maybe what's happening in Wisconsin could make or break worker's rights. But if the governor has his way, it will send the labor movement back an entire century. If this happens, the Democratic Party, who primarily supports average working-class Americans (and supports organized labor and unions), will be severely weakened.

The Republicans, who mostly represent the wealthiest 2% and multi-national corporations (those that outsource jobs and are also funded through campaign contributions), will gain ever more concessions from regular working-class folks (such as lower wages and fewer benefits).

But before this happens, let's not forget why we have ever had labor unions in the first place, and why they must be saved...

The American Dream seemed a long way off for the young female workers at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City in 1911. They toiled 13 hours a day for $0.13 an hour. The working conditions were extremely difficult. A year earlier New York's garment workers (many just young teenagers) had begun agitating for shorter hours, better pay, safer shops, and union representation.

To the horror of the factory's owners, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, the young women of the Triangle factory joined the crusade and called for a strike, becoming leaders in what became the largest women's strike in American history. Within 48 hours, more than 50 of the smallest factories gave in to their workers' demands but the Triangle bosses organized other owners and refused to surrender, paying prostitutes and police to beat the brave young seamstresses.

On the afternoon of Saturday, March 25, 1911, as the workday was ending, a fire flared up in a scrap bin under one of the cutters' tables on the eighth floor. The fire had ultimately caused the deaths of 146 garment workers, most of them women, who either died from the fire or jumped to their deaths. Most of the workers could not escape the burning building because the managers had locked the doors to the stairwells and exits to prevent theft. Fire truck ladders only reached the sixth floor, so the young women were forced to jump from the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors.

The Insurance Monitor, a leading industry journal, suggested that the epidemic of fires among shirtwaist manufacturers at the time was "fairly saturated with moral hazard", although after that particular fire, no one suggested arson.

New York state assemblyman  Louis Waldman described the scene of the fire years later: "I looked up at the burning building, saw girl after girl appear at the reddened windows, pause for a terrified moment, and then leap to the pavement below, to land as mangled, bloody pulp. This went on for what seemed a ghastly eternity. Occasionally a girl who had hesitated too long was licked by pursuing flames and, screaming with clothing and hair ablaze, plunged like a living torch to the street. Life nets held by the firemen were torn by
the impact of the falling bodies."

The company's owners, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, had fled to the building's roof when the fire first began and had survived. They were later put on trial but the jury acquitted the owners. However, they lost a subsequent civil suit in 1913 and plaintiffs won compensation in the amount of $75 per deceased victim. However, the insurance company paid Blanck and Harris about $60,000 more than the reported losses, or about $400 per casualty. They profited from the young women's deaths.

Rose Schneiderman, a prominent union activist, gave a speech at the memorial meeting held in New York City's Metropolitan Opera House on April 2, 1911. She used the fire as an argument for factory workers to organize: "I know from my experience it is up to the working people to save themselves. The only way they can save themselves is by a strong working-class movement."

In 1913, Max Blanck was once again arrested for locking the door in his factory during working hours. He was slapped on the wrist then only fined $20.

If they were both alive today in 2011, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris might be making $50 million a year and their laborers would probably be earning the federally mandated minimum wage of $7.25 an hour - with NO benefits at all (unless of course, they belonged to a labor union). Their workers would have no A/C in the summer and very little (if any) heat in the winter. And they would have to work 12-hour shifts, with only Sundays off.

Max Blanck and Isaac Harris might have also have off-shore bank accounts to avoid paying corporate income taxes. But if they had laid off any of their workers in 2008, they would have most likely tried to deny them unemployment insurance as well, just like the Republicans always do. And they would have whined like little piggies for further extending their Bush Tax Cuts.

That's why we need the labor unions (and the Democrats) - to protect normal, average, working Americans WHILE they're still working and AFTER they're wrongfully fired or laid-off.

On the other hand, the corporations (the Republicans) will only chew you up, spit you out, and leave you on top of a garbage heap. Then they'll insult you, call you lazy, and accuse you of not having the needed jobs skills after sending your job to Mexico or China.

If you disagree with the GOP and Tea Party (and join a labor union), they'll call you a communist. But who gives a damn. Do yourself, your family, and this country a favor...join a union and buy American-made products whenever you can. Screw the governor of  Wisconsin and the GOP - the union busters.

* See my previous related post:

1 comment:

  1. Being from the late motor city, now called NoTown, and a business school graduate (majoring in human resources), I saw in the 1980s how unions demanded and received what I still consider to be excessively high wages. When I met my husband, a former auto worker, he told stories of being chastised by the union for being too productive.

    Back then, I didn't see the connection between unions and my wages. I didn't realize they set the standard for hours and benefit packages. Although I realized unions were absolutely necessary in the beginning, I saw that they pushed the pendulum too far the other way, getting complacent with the feeling of entitlement. Many of these people earned substantially more than me - with my MBA, weekly travel and long hours. I was anti-union.

    I never bought into "buy American" because of planned obsolescence, increasingly poor quality and a reduction in service standards. It is still my opinion that American companies should provide a superior product/service and due to transportation and trade costs, sell it for less. But that isn't what happens.

    Now I see past the obviously bogus corporate mission statements and public statements to realize capitalism is the problem, rewarding profit at all costs. Unions are the only defense against abuse by corrupt corporations in collusion with the other owners of capital to render all but a few, impoverished.

    Unions are not the solution because they will not ever acquire enough money to buy legislators like corporations. But unions are an equalizing force and union busting is unAmerican. I heard a song about that subject @ http://www.musicxray.com/xrays/21876.

    Your posts really get me riled up Bud. Great job!