Yesterday my husband's labor union voted to give back its $25.00-per-week pay raise that was due to kick in on September 1. If you combine that with the fact that we now have to pay $150 a month more toward our health care, you can see that Chateau Johnson is losing ground.
The gesture of goodwill made by Mr. Johnson's union towards the clueless folks that bought his plant two years ago will not help management balance its books. Nor will it save jobs, nor will it save his union. In a global economy, the days of collective bargaining have come to an end.
Being rather laid up right now, I brought some movies home from the library. One of them was Norma Rae. It has always been a favorite of mine. But watching it again, after a period of many years, just made me weep.
In the film, a textile union organizer comes to the small Southern town where Norma Rae lives in order to install a union in her cotton mill. In one scene, the organizer tells a sparse crowd that he's there not only to make their working lives better, but the working lives of their children and grandchildren, who will also go into the mill.
That's where I started crying. Because the mills have all closed down. The work is now done in Malaysia, China, Vietnam. Under the same horrid conditions that haunted Norma Rae, for even fewer wages than she earned in her days prior to joining a union.
Take a look at the speakers at the Democratic National Convention. I haven't seen the entire tally, but I can remember a time when important keynote addresses would be delivered by presidents of big unions like the AFL-CIO. It ain't happening this time.
Last spring my daughter The Spare decided to do a big diorama on organized labor. So, to help her, I looked up the major candidates' opinions on the topic. I had to hunt like a hound to find any mention of unions on Barack Obama's official web site. When I finally found his position on labor, it consisted of a single paragraph about a single piece of legislation.
We have returned to a Guilded Age on a global scale. A scant few hold the wealth, with no qualms about their rights to it and no sense of social justice for the many who barely survive while generating that wealth.
Barack Obama says he will work for America's middle class. I hope he can find it, because from where I sit it's disappearing ... along with its creator, the labor union.