I never liked labor unions.
I came by this position honestly.
My father was an entrepreneur and owner of a succession of small businesses.
My great uncle Pete was a union organizer. My parents believed that he was a communist. They liked Uncle Pete, but they didn’t like communists, so they didn’t tell people about Uncle Pete. In my family, supporting unions was a shameful thing that should be kept secret.
My father watched television news, read newspapers, and later listened to talk radio. He had an extensive repertoire of stories about unions’ support for socialism, strikes for the flimsiest reasons, corruption, greed, and – that perennial staple of union bashing – their unflagging support for lazy, incompetent employees who can’t be fired even though they richly deserve it.
When I became older, I heard the same things on the media myself. And I knew that much of it was true. Not all of it – especially as the American news media became more concerned with entertainment value than veracity – but much of it. Unions do sometimes throw their might around; sometimes they are corrupt; and sometimes they support employees who should be fired.
Union leaders really do make dramatic statements in favor of socialism. I have met some, personally, and heard those statements directly.
Later, when I joined the workforce, I saw the other side of the coin. Unions are a problem, but employers are worse.
I worked for a federal government and saw hard-working employees bullied and harassed both by their individual supervisors and by the system as a whole. Some managers, envious and egotistical, would have fired their most productive employees because they didn’t like them personally and feared the competition from below.
Only the rules established by union-negotiated contracts kept the system fair.
I was protected by those contracts. I still didn’t like unions, but I joined mine because the reality was that the unions were necessary to sustain my working environment.
With broader experience, a few things became obvious.
First, the government might be a poor employer, but those parts of private industry that were not unionized were far worse. I heard endless horror stories from my friends. I have seen my children mistreated by non-union employers and been powerless to help them.
Second, the unions don’t automatically protect people who need firing, even in the government. I saw employees whose incompetence was documented and they were fired. In other cases where employees were ushered out the door by ad hoc methods without a whisper of complaint from the union.
Third, employers are tenacious in trying to reduce wages. They never stop trying to give pay raises that are less than inflation. Never. The unions might ask too much, but employers always, always offer too little. And, more than once in my career, the government enacted laws to freeze wages and limit strikes when contract negotiations became inconvenient.
The unions don’t have any walk in the park.
Today, raising my eyes from my personal situation and looking at the broader developments in the economy, we all are in a precarious fix.
Unions are losing their strength. Decade after decade of relentless anti-union propaganda is eroding public support for unions.
That is damaging the country.
America, and every other industrialized country, was built by the middle class, not by the elites. Every tin-pot third-world dictatorship has a wealthy elite class. That doesn’t make them strong countries or good places to live (except for the fraction of a percent of the population in the elite class who can literally get away with murder of the common folk).
Only a vast middle class has the skills and industriousness to build a first-world country.
But the erosion of the power of unions is eroding the middle class in America. Fewer Americans are members of unions: only half as many Americans are in unions today as thirty years ago; and only eleven percent of the American workforce is unionized. Wages are falling. Fewer people consider themselves middle-class and, of those that do, they have lower incomes than the middle class of the last generation.
For the first time in history, the next generation of workers, our children, will have a lower standard of living than we do.
Yet the media continues to propagandize against unions relentlessly. Why? Because the media is big business. It is owned by wealthy people and they do not like unions or the middle class. They want all the money in their pockets, not being paid out to their employees as fair wages.
Even if America becomes a third world country, the elite know that they are still going to be the elite. In fact, they will become even richer and more powerful as the country degrades.
The decades of anti-union propaganda has left its mark on me. I still don’t like unions.
But I will support them to the end because American needs them.