Monday, September 06, 2010

A Labor Day treasure

This morning, I got an email message from the AFL-CIO. The writer quoted FDR who said, ""If I were a worker in a factory, the first thing I would do would be to join a union."

Then President Barack Obama was quoted:

I think that's true for workers generally. I think if I was a coal miner, I'd want a union representing me to make sure that I was safe and you did not have some of the tragedies that we've been seeing in the coal industry. If I was a teacher, I'd want a union to make sure that the teachers' perspective was represented as we think about shaping an education system for our future.

Me too.

In fact, I have been a member of three unions during my working life: two teachers' unions and the musicians' union. (Two of them were affiliates of the AFL-CIO.)

Let me tell you something: I've worked union jobs and I've worked non-union jobs and I'll take the union jobs any day. As a musician, I've been hired to perform in non-union situations where the working conditions were simply appalling. (Once an orchestra pit for an opera company I worked for was so filthy there was a dead rat in it.) I also sometimes had trouble getting paid and, let me also tell you, when you're in the "starving artist" category, you can't very well hire a lawyer to go to bat for you. When I joined the union and started working those jobs, everything changed. Appropriate conditions, no forced un-paid overtime (par for the course in non-union jobs), decent pay and, most of all, respect. Having representation and recourse when there's a problem makes all the difference in the world.

Do we sometimes find corrupt politics in unions? Well, yes. The thing to remember is that without unions, the corrupt politcs will all be on the side of management. (Ponder that one for a while.)

I've also been on the receiving end of union-busting intimidation techniques and, I assure you, that's no fun. I still get a little sick to my stomach when I remember it.

This Labor Day, thank the unions. Even if you've never belonged to a union in your life, unions have benefited you hugely. Because of unions we have, in this country, the following:

40 hour work week

On the job safety regulations
Decent wages
Reasonable job security
Pension plans
Protection against abusive employers
Paid vacations

And, if you don't have the above in your work, you probably think that you should. That's the influence of the union movement on societal values.


  1. I really liked this post, Ellie! Nicely said. I think Health Insurance should be added to the list too! Hope you don't mind, but I am linking it from my site.

  2. The rail unions held a strike today and on the way home noticed the London paper, the Evening Standard, had run a front page with the headline "Unions won't beat us" or something, showing "brave Londoners" struggling to get to work anyway. As if the unions were our enemy!! I was so annoyed. Yes the strike was massively inconvenient, but I'm sure they didn't embark on it lightly and that there was good reason for it (it was about safety concerns). How dare that paper take that angle! How deceptive.

  3. Yes, Nan. You're right about the health insurance bit. Thanks for posting the link.

    And I agree with you, Cathy, about the rail strike. I remember living through a rather long postal strike when I lived in Dublin (this was before the days of email and fax machines were few and far between). It was quite a hardship on me but I supported the postal workers fully.

    People forget to THINK. Really.


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