I was a member of Local 17 of the Newspaper Guild in Rochester for 24 years, and I’m still a strong supporter of the labor union movement.
Labor unions have their faults, just as churches, political parties and other institutions do, because they’re merely structures in which people can operate, for good or ill.
But they’re the only structure created for the specific purpose of defending the rights and interests of working people. Without a strong and independent labor movement, there’s little to stand between individual working people and the structures of corporate and governmental power.
Even a weak labor union, if truly independent, is better than none. Local 17’s contracts with Gannett Newspapers were highly favorable to the company, but the fact that there was a contract meant that the company could not operate arbitrarily. Even if the company wrote the rules, it had to follow these rules.
Another thing that helped us was the strength of the International Typographers Unions and other printing trades unions, until they were wiped out by new technologies that didn’t require their skills. Their high wages and good benefits set a benchmark that benefited all other employees in the building.
A lot of people used to take the gains won by labor unions for granted. They thought that the eight-hour day, overtime pay, paid vacations, sick pay and medical insurance were something that employers granted out of the goodness of their hearts. Now that all these things are under attack, I think some of these people are reconsidering.
Most Americans in labor unions are better off than Americans not in labor unions. I hear non-union workers ask why the union members should have benefits that they lack. I think they should ask themselves why they themselves shouldn’t have these benefits.
Here are some articles about American labor and labor unions that I read recently and recommend. If you have the time and interest, they might make for good reading over our Labor Day weekend.
A Future for Workers: a Contribution from Black Labor. (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)
The writers of this excellent analysis show how the right wing has successfully used a divide and rule strategy against American workers—setting white against black, men against women, and native-born against immigrants. Justice for people of color, for women and for immigrants are not in conflict with economic justice. They are part of the same struggle.
MLK in Memphis: ‘Now is the time to make an adequate income a reality for all God’s children’ by Mike the Mad Biologist.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was a strong supporter of the American labor movement, and vice versa. He spoke in union halls almost as often as he spoke in churches, and it was the United Auto Workers that bailed him out of the Birmingham Jail.
Understanding the Historic Divergence Between Productivity and a Typical Worker’s Pay: Why It Matters and Why It’s Real by Josh Bivens and Lawrence Mishel for the Economic Policy Institute.
Why Even the Labor Movement’s Biggest Enemies Should Be Cheering It On by Thomas Geoghegan for The Observer.
How much your pay goes up when you join a labor union by Shane Ferro for Business Insider.
Why it’s time for labor to organize by Shane Ferro for Business Insider.
Why Union Contracts Are Good for the Country by David Macaray for Counterpunch.
N.L.R.B’s Browing-Ferris Decision Could Reshape Contract and Franchise Labor by Catherine Fisk, UC professor of law, for ON LABOR