Saturday, December 4, 2010

As The Unions Go, So Goes The Rest Of The Workers

Back in the days before unionized labor, working conditions were miserable to say the least. Workers were paid lower than living wages; young children would work long days, often in dangerous conditions; workers were often killed on the job; workdays were often 12 or more hours long, six or seven days a week; and in some extreme cases, workers' wives were forced to sleep with their husbands bosses or risk losing their jobs and their company-owned homes.

Things were even worse for immigrants and minorities:

Between the years of 1897 and 1903, approximately half of America's families did not own property. And by 1900, 18 million of the 29 million made an annual wage of around $500, which was below the cost of living for a industrialized family of four, while Andrew Carnegie earned $23 million himself.

Life expectancy for whites was 48 years and nonwhites was only 34. The work force included 1.75 million children under 15 and more than five million women, who sometimes worked for as low as 10 cents for a 10-hour day. Those conditions, the dehumanization of the American laborer in large, and impersonal factories, led to numerous revolts and uprisings.

With the emergence of an organized labor force, and with the bravery and ultimate sacrifice of some some heroic men and women, like those in the Bay View Tragedy, things started to change.

Workers made many gains towards a more civilized work environment, including:
  • Child Labor Laws
  • Eight-hour work days
  • Forty-hour work weeks
  • Weekends
  • Holidays off
  • Collective bargaining
  • Living wages
  • Equality in the work place
These benefits were even being seen in non-union shops, since they had to start offering similar pay rates and benefits, lest their workers leave at the first opportunity for a job in a union shop, where they would get treated better. By raising their own quality of life and

However, over the last several decades, the strength of the unions has been gradually and steadily eroded away. Salaries replaced wages and the forty-hour work week started to disappear. Laws protecting worker safety were weakened bringing a higher rate of job-related deaths.

More things are starting to show in the last decade that resembles life before unions, such as the consolidation of wealth among a few and high levels of unemployment forcing people to take jobs that no longer can support a family.

Now, as xoff accurately points out, Scott Walker, the Fitzgerald boys and the other conservative thugnuts are considering trying to accelerate the state's economic nose dive:
So far it is mostly trial balloons, but Walker and the Republicans haven't even taken over yet and are floating a host of anti-union ideas. "Whether it's taking things like health care and pensions off of collective bargaining or whether it's changing arbitration (rules), there's all sorts of different options," Walker said. "We really haven't reached one single conclusion."

At the risk of sounding like an alarmist, this could be a brutal year ahead, as union- busting tactics force workers to resort to their weapon of last resort. Walker and the GOP could get much more than they bargain for (no pun intended.)

It could be an ugly scene, with prison guards, firefighters, teachers, nurses, librarians, health care workers, road crews, garbage collectors, snow plow drivers, and more on the picket lines.

That may be what Walker wants. If the citizenry real has bought the anti -union line, a strike might be the final straw that breaks the unions and gets the state collective bargaining law repealed.

A fall-back might be to amend the law to take health care or other benefits off the table and make them no longer subject to bargaining. It's a safe bet that Walker will go as far as he thinks he can get away with, but he could overreach.

Private sector unions have been swallowing hard and making concessions to keep their jobs. Walker may think the public sector unions will do the same. They already have bargained contracts with the state that call for no pay raises and furlough days, amounting to pay cuts, but Walker is even trying to stop those from being ratified because he wants even more out of the workers' hides. He may get it.
I think that, personally speaking, the saddest thing about the current state of affairs is that instead of the workforce, private and public, pulling together and presenting a unified front, the plutocrats have managed to divide the work force by first nearly destroying the private sector unions.

Instead of trying to improve their lives, and fighting for their share of the pie, an alarming percentage of the population now apparently think the answer is to seek the lowest common denominator.
Or in other words, instead of allowing the tide in to raise all our ships, they would rather have a race to the bottom.

Xoff is correct that people will be pushed only so far before they push back, or as he cites the labor reference, they "get up off their knees." In psychobabble, it's known as hitting rock bottom.

The question that I have is at what point do enough of us hit rock bottom, how many of us have to lose their jobs, their homes, their health care and even their lives before we wake up and take our county, state and country back?

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