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Of Unions, Labor, And US Manufacturing

The pendulum swings, whether we like it or not.

There’s been a lot of talk about unions lately, what with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s failed recall election.

I think we’re in an odd spot these days. And it’s getting more odd. Our dialogue has become so incensed and self-serving that I’m not sure we’re seeing clearly right now. And that’s not good – because now’s not the time for us to be distracted, or off our game. We should be paying attention and looking for solutins more now that at any time in recent memory.

We’re in a tough spot. And we need ‘us’ to get us back on track. All of us.

Many are predicting the end of labor in this country. We’re on a path, they say, that’s gonna lead to misery and destruction, and we’ll never get it back.

What a load of bunk.

The fact is that, like most things in this world, labor – or governments or companies or communities or anything of value – get co-opted over time by special interests and greed and misguided intentions. It’s the imperfection of the human condition, and a result of us taking our eyes off the ball. We’re selfish, and we take what we want. Or, we take it back. It’s always been so.

But lets not forget that unions came from something real. They were created as a reaction to an environment where working conditions and compensation were so egregious that there was no alternative but to fight back. To establish fair wages, the work week, vacations, and the middle class. And some dignity.

These are not small things.

And on top of these not-so-small things, unions have helped to contribute not only to the middle class in this country, but also to its prosperity and productivity.

I’m not going to debate the differences between the public and private sector unions. Public sector unions were founded in 1959, for entirely different reasons than the labor movement was. But that’s part of the deception – that all unions are B-A-D, like the bogey man. That they all share every quality or characteristic. And that just ain’t so. Our private sector unions are there to ensure that there’s a balance between where greed is pursued and where it consumes everything in its path.

Unions are part of the great the collective. They are – or, at least, were meant to be – an extension of the most fundamental pillars of our form of government. ‘We, the people …’ ‘And justice for all …’ that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights …’

But so are those that employ them. We’re all included in this brilliant experiment. To shut one side out in favor of another is counter-productive, anti-American, and despicable. And it will not stand. It never does.

The discourse in this country is supposed to be messy and uncomfortable. But when it gets to the point of defiling or vilifying something like labor – founded to confront a real form of tyranny, in the same spirit as our country itself – I have to call crapola.

The bottom line is this:

Manufacturing and the business end of our economy must have as much freedom to pursue wealth and profit as is possible. Especially in the face of challenges posed by an ever-expanding, global economy.

But labor cannot be stripped of all rights to collective bargaining and left neutered in the face of industry when faced with those same challenges. That level of desperation, left unchecked, is a recipe for a return to times we simply don’t need right now.

And the pendulum swings again to the other side, like we can’t do both at the same time. And that side that the pendulum swings away from screams doom and gloom each time, like we’ve never been through this before. We need to relax, and find our resolve. We should understand that this is the flow of things, and how we find balance. But it has never been that all is lost. And it isn’t now.

And ask yourself this – regardless of your beliefs or politics, do you really want to live and work in a country without unions? Really?

Had our forefathers known the unintended rewards of a middle class and what it would bring to this nation and its economy, they would never have fought its emergence in the first place.

Let’s hope this generation gets a little smarter than they were, and soon.

AJ Sweatt
Website
3 Comments
  1. This call for a reasoned, sensible approach to union reform is the right call at the right time. I was raised in a union family (AZ copper mines/smelters) so I am fully aware of the awesome benefits that they have bestowed upon the middle class in this country. In fact, it would not be out of line to suggest that they played a very significant role in creating that middle class.

    That being said, anyone that has seen the excesses at the XX Plant in XXXXdale, OH during the 80’s/90s has to know that there are some reforms that are needed. What seems to me to be needed more than anything is for the various unions re-establish their credentials and once more become an institution that is respected by the common folk in this country. At some point it seems that the unions became a business with their own interests and the members became just a revenue garnering tool for them as well.

    • Thanks, Jim. I think the solution lies in reform. Our workforce is living longer and potentially at numbers we never expected. If we can rework not only the equations but also the expectations – on a basis that we’re all in this together – we can have balance. It’s all about trust. ON BOTH SIDES.

  2. Voters in Ohio later repealed a law that would limit collective bargaining for some public-sector unions, but unions in many states are still at odds with government. So if unions decline, where does that leave the middle class?

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