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Monday, September 7, 2015

Happy Labor Day!... A Tribute to My Dad, Union Man, and to Workers All Over the World.

What would the 50's and 60's have been like without the unions?  For those of us who grew up in the 50's and 60's, what would our lives have been like without the unions?

My Dad was a veteran and a union man -- from an immigrant family.    

From Free Great Images-- Labor Day 2014

(Updated for Labor Day 2015, September 7, 2015, from this article published last year. )

My Dad wasn't an activist; he wasn't a union steward; he just worked in a union shop for about 33 years.

Dad was a bright guy, born here in the United States, but he came from a dirt poor immigrant family and never finished high school. The house he lived in as a kid was still standing when we were little and we would occasionally ride past it. 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 the Army Air Force in WWII, married my Mom, got out of the service, worked this job and that.  
He was a self-taught man.  In these days of degrees, advanced degrees, and specialized certificates someone like my dad might go nowhere.

The garage and his workshop in the basement were filled with every kind of tool imaginable, pieces of wood, metal, odds and ends that he picked up.  
He could fix anything, and, for a while when we were really little, he fixed cars out of the garage and also did some electrical work for pay.  He did less of that after he got a solid union job in the mid 50's.  He was then content to spend his weekends keeping our home, our grandmother's home, and the apartment buildings that my parents owned in good repair. 

Happy Labor Day!  from Cognitive Dissonance 

Life in a Union Family in the 50's and 60's

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--- all on one union income. They helped to put their two kids through college, though state universities were not very expensive back then. (Working and middle class kids could actually go through the state university system and not graduate owing tens of thousands of dollars.)

My Mom did go back to work part-time when we were in junior high to help us and have extras.  My parents accumulated capital, helped their kids out, enjoyed their grandkids, lived a comfortable, though not ostentatious, life, and enjoyed a dignified retirement.

Now, as I said, my dad was bright. The anti-union people would perhaps 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. But 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.)

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.

He never went on strike, but he was concerned about it a few times; there was always a settlement before the strike date came.  The company he worked for changed owners, was bought out, was sold again, but eventually it became part of what is now Verizon.
Life Changed in the 1980's

Found at IAM's site

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.

Index to all Jobs & Employment Reports HERE  
Are unions still relevant?

Let's remember:  Unions wouldn't be necessary if companies paid their employees reasonably, treated them like human beings, and insisted on decent working conditions.... and didn't insist on paying CEO's millions because they are so "worth it".  "Class warfare" didn't start with the workers.

Here's an article written for Labor Day 2011; still relevant: Republicans Should Use This Labor Day to Ponder Their Assault on the American Worker--

...And that's what Labor Day has transformed into: Not about the history of labor, respect for union or an opportunity to affirm our commitment to fundamental worker rights, just a chance for some family-friendly fun.
That family-friendly fun, by the way, is made possible by child labor laws, weekends and minimum wage - all progress that was championed by labor unions. But you won't hear about that on Monday, politicians will be too busy discussing how to get government out of the way of Big Business and regular Americans will be too preoccupied worrying about their economic future.

Thanks, Justin Krebs!

For Labor Day 2013, Paul Krugman talked about the loss of respect for the working man, particularly among the Republican right-wing:

No, what’s unimaginable now is that Congress would unanimously offer even an empty gesture of support for workers’ dignity. For the fact is that many of today’s politicians can’t even bring themselves to fake respect for ordinary working Americans. 
Consider, for example, how Eric Cantor, the (former) House majority leader, marked Labor Day last year: with a Twitter post declaring “Today, we celebrate those who have taken a risk, worked hard, built a business and earned their own success.” Yep, he saw Labor Day as an occasion to honor business owners.

Some people complain that the unions are the problem; that they make American workers not as "competitive".

But the problem isn't the unions;
 the problem is that there are not enough of them.. all over the world.

There may be a few of those mythical corrupt union officials who just take money from the union members, more in the past than now.  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?

As I wrote above, 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.

But, while we contemplate the state of the American worker and the unions, we can appreciate Labor Day.

And to all workers everywhere, whether labor or management, whether union or self-employed:

Have a good day and remember the middle class life that we all took for granted.  It's still not too late to save it!

1 comment:

  1. I was a union maid for 19 years I worked for General Dynamics under an IAM & AW contract. (Machinists' Union). I was able to raise 2 daughters, buy a home and get a pension. I had good paid medical, vacation and other benefits. I thank my Union for where I am today - retired and about to get Medicare in December.


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