As usual during economic hardships, the right wing is going after the unions again, trying to convince America that the organizations most responsible for gaining for every American worker an 8 hour work day, overtime pay, safety regulations, workers’ compensation, child labor laws, unemployment insurance and Social Security. What would the alternative to unions be? 1911.
1911 was the year that galvanized the labor movement, because that was the year that the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire killed 146 women and girls working in a sweatshop with all the doors locked so the very little girls would remain at their machines for 60¢ for an 80 hour week.
The labor wars had been raging for decades in America. In 1894 President Grover Cleveland created the national holiday Labor Day as a sort of my bad for Federal troops and U.S. Marshals killing 13 workers and wounding another 57 during the course of the nationwide Pullman Railroad strike in 1893.
There were hundreds of similar stories during the Labor Wars, with wealthy and influential companies hiring gangs of violent thugs and, when that failed, calling out State Militias to bully and attack workers seeking to organize against hellish work conditions and poverty wages.
The Robber Barons, who paid 1% or less income tax, lived baronial lifestyles of unparalleled luxury while those who made them rich as Midas lived in overcrowded tenements or company-owned hovels and choked the black dust of their industries until they couldn’t work anymore, at which point they were discarded and replaced like worn out tools.
The corporate barons were so wealthy that they built hundreds of gigantic mansions in New Port, Rhode Island just for the hell of it, to use as summer cottages for a couple of dozen days per year.
Which makes yesterday’s corporate barons not at all different from today’s bunch of corporate thugs, the ones who stole all the money in 2008 and continue to get away with the same crimes over and over and live like kings while the country writhes in economic pain.
The bonuses, the private jets, the multiple palatial homes, the art collections, the million dollar cars, all “earned” on the sale of fraudulent financial products and the failure to pay their fair share of taxes, is unchanged in this class of beings that brought the nation and the world to the brink of financial ruin. They gave up Bernie Madoff, took a trillion or so from U.S. Treasury, and kept on keeping on.
Does anyone think that these rats would behave any differently towards labor than those came before them? What has their post-2008 behavior indicate? Remorse? No. Reform? No. Adopting honest business strategies and reality-based asset evaluation? No. A rededication to the law and business ethics?
Any of these these responses would have been welcome, accompanied by a thorough house cleaning at the top in corporate offices.
If anything, this recession that they created has them lashing out to blame everyone else, anyone but the person they see in the mirror every morning. Unions are always an easy target during bad times, a reminder to the world that workers can gain fair treatment, competitive wages and a safe work environment.
Robber Barons see well paid employees as an impediment to attaining their next Picasso, a Rolls Royce in all 5 driveways or an upgrade of the company jet. Every large corporation is top heavy with such useless leeches. In 1965, 3 people at American Airlines earned more than jumbo jet pilots, the highest skilled workers in the company.
Today, there are thousands of empty suits at American Airlines who make a lot more than the pilots, the only absolutely essential employees in an airline. These Vice Presidents and Managers have nothing to do with actual aviation, and could just as soon be taking up space in the office tower some other company that sold spaghetti sauce or light bulbs for all they know or care.
Those with a passion for aviation, spaghetti sauce or light bulbs actually do the flying, the cooking and the assembling, while the empty suits earn the lion’s share of the profits. These non-innovators are the ones who start eliminating production jobs and lowering pay scales when their multimillion dollar bonuses are threatened.
It’s no stretch of the imagination to see how they would treat their employees without the laws written in workers’ blood that guarantees Americans a safe work place and the small social safety net currently enjoyed by every worker. Anyone care to volunteer their 7 year-old to work in filthy mines or factories 6 and a half days a week?
Men have not changed since 1911, neither the rich ones, the poor ones or that big bunch in the middle, the ones that got to the middle thanks to unions. It is only our toys that have grown more complex, not us.
To think that the unions’ work is done and their time is past is to ignore human nature. They are as relevant now as they were in 1911. Just look to many other nations, where the majority live in extreme poverty. It is always 1911 for workers without representation.
Only around 15 million American workers are members of unions. The history of unions in America is the history of the betterment of American workers and the founding of a broad middle class. To paraphrase Churchill: “Never have so many owed so much to so few.”