2008-09-05 / Columnists

The Progressive

Safety Net For Workers
Commentary By John Paul Culotta

Labor Day for most of us means the end of summer vacations and the commencement of the new scholastic year. We enjoy our last days at the seashore, backyard barbecues, and visions of bathing beauties and muscular frames clothed as closely to when created by the Almighty as legally allowed. Department stores are busy with clearances and back to school sales promotions.

Parades are sometimes part of the political calendar, especially in crucial election years as 2008 will be. Often, the significance of the holiday is lost. (Most of our national, state, and religious holidays have lost their original meaning for too many of us.) We forget that the holiday was meant as a reflection on the contributions that ordinary working people and their collective bargaining agents have given this nation and the world.

Labor unions have been a contributing factor to a more civilized and humane society. Our academic establishment when teaching history concentrates on kings, presidents, generals, important military battles, legal decisions and the use of violence.

Often, working people and their struggles and accomplishments are given little attention. Labor unions, for the most part, have used the tactic of nonviolent persuasion to achieve their goals. Strikes are considered the most powerful weapon. Conservatives often accuse labor unions of inciting violence and reprisals on nonstriking employees when a strike is in progress. Often, our media and political discourse do not highlight the horrors of unsafe working conditions and inadequate compensation.

Many of our most cherished social and economic achievements were accomplished by workers through the auspices of their lobbying agent - labor unions. Free universal education, OT compensation after working the standard forty-hour workweek, health benefits, retirement plans, adequate workers' compensation when disabled, and decent remuneration are just some of labor's contributions to the nation.

Labor unions also were instrumental in advancing American objectives in countries overseas by supporting labor organizing in Poland and elsewhere. We need to recognize that honest labor unions are important and essential for social justice and harmony. Employers that are hostile to labor union organizing are only interested in their selfish objectives. Corrupt labor officials that use labor unions as a vehicle for economic gain are cancerous growths that need to be severed from their positions of power and influence.

In recent years during the GOP ascendancy to almost complete control of our central government and many states, labor unions have lost much political, economic and social clout. In fact, except for government workers that are prohibited the use of strike action as a tactic, most American workers are not unionized.

Many service industries such as hospital and health care workers, hotel and restaurants are seeing some growth in unionization. Many of the traditional blue collar and construction unions are losing membership as the industries that made America the marvel of the world are now in decline. Construction sites across the nation are now mostly non-union; often employers use undocumented workers. Accidents have become more commonplace when unions do not have the power to voice an influence in the workplace.

On July 31, 2008 the New York Times on page A17 reported: "Concerned that thousands of corporations have cut back on health coverage and pensions - partly because of competitive pressures fueled by globalization - the Rockefeller Foundation has begun a $70 million effort to help build a new social safety net for the nation's workers especially the poorest and most vulnerable."

This effort by the Rockefeller Foundation is laudable and regrettable. American workers deserve decent wages, a safe workplace, universal health coverage, affordable housing, educational opportunities for their children and pension plans that supplement social security adequately and do not just benefit Wall Street. Strong labor unions and increased membership in labor unions in all job categories is the most efficient vehicle to secure these objectives. We should evaluate all candidates for public office as to their position on increasing labor's influence in our political, economic and social life.

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Dear John

Ask France how the labor union is working for them. They have their universal health care (dismal for the worker) the 35 hour work week (dismal for the employer) and all the other benifits that are all subsidized by the government (Dismal for the country). They all live in tiny places drive tiny cars (or mopeds) and cannot get ahead due to all of this. Unions had their place in the early years when it was basically salve labor by the employers. But, please look at the car companies. Unions said look at all the money the automakers have, give some to us. Well you fought and you won and now they are going bankrupt. People (Democrats) are discussing taking money from the oil companies and giving it to the little people. I guess the "I want it all crowd" just want all of us to have the same life just like France. Sorry but this is America and we will not go gentle into the night.

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