What would the 50's and 60's have been like without the unions?
|Found at IAM's site|
"Love" is probably a strong word as I do have some complaints about unions. However, I have developed a newly-found appreciation for them as I watch the attempts to strip them of authority and power.
My Dad, Union Man
My Dad was a bright guy, but he came from a dirt poor family and never finished high school. The house he lived in as a kid was still standing when we were little, and we couldn't believe that Dad had lived in a ...shack.
Dad struggled as an adolescent in the late 30's, taking odd jobs, and trying to get enough cash together to take a few courses in car or truck repair. He went into WWII, married my Mom, got out of the service, worked this job and that, and eventually got a solid job, a union job, in the mid 50's.
He stayed there for 33 years. He got a few patents while he worked for his telephone manufacturer employer; he was bright and worked closely with the engineers and earned their respect over and over again even though he lacked formal education.
During those 33 years, he and my mom raised two kids, bought a house, paid it off, bought an apartment building for rental income and paid that off. They helped to put their two kids through college, though state universities were not very expensive back then. (Working class kids could actually go through the state university system and not graduate owing tens of thousands of dollars.) My parents accumulated capital, helped their kids out, enjoyed their grandkids, lived a comfortable, though not ostentatious, life, and enjoyed a dignified retirement..
Now, my dad was bright. The anti-union people would say that he didn't need the union, and maybe the union held him back. I don't think that was true. He was not educated, though degrees weren't as important back then as they are now, and he was kind of a quiet guy. I don't think he would have come across well in interviews. He worked his tail off for those 33 years, rarely took a day off. Because he was in a union, nobody laid him off from his company when he was in his 50's or 60's, which is what companies without unions can easily do these days. (Ask my husband about that.)
His company eventually shut down the plant that he worked in, as they shipped their functions to cheaper labor places in the south and booming southwest. The company needed to be "competitive" of course, and all of those highly-paid union guys, you know the ones who actually made enough money to feed their families, buy homes, and send their kids off to school, were not making the company "competitive" enough. But my Dad had retired by that time.
For all of those people, mostly men, who were able to provide a much better life for their families in the 50's, 60's, and 70's than their parents could have ever imagined, the unions were a very good thing.
The problem isn't the unions; it is that there aren't enough of them.. all over the world.
Yes, there are some corrupt union officials who just take money from the union members. But aren't the people who are really taking money from the working people these days the CEO's who get more in bonuses every time a person is let go or every time a job is off-shored? And the hedge fund managers and banksters who have turned our financial system into a casino often on the backs of the middle and working classes?
Organized labor wouldn't be a necessity if corporations treated their employees as valued participants in the products they are producing... instead of as buckets on a spreadsheet somewhere. Too many people have forgotten why unions started and gained strength. It's not that the pie isn't big enough; it's that some people are getting really, really big pieces.... and others are getting crumbs.
Perhaps the unions can re-invigorate themselves by helping people fight for a bigger piece of pie.