Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Twilight of Organized Labor

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored." Forget eternity. Where will you be spending Labor Day?

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.


yellowdog granny said...

you are so dead on..I have said the same thing about the unions for years...when the chinese were putting on the opening ceremonies for the olympics everyone said 'oh, look what the chinese did'...and i said 'look at what the americans paid for'..
if i don't croak from a stroke i will be showing junebugg the town of west and take her to westfest...pevo all around..

THE Michael said...

Americans will now give up their hard-earned labor rights in exchange for the very slim chance of making it big themselves, then having their style crimped by having to pay the lesser classes a living wage. We won't hang together, so we're gonna hang seperately.

Chas S. Clifton said...

Weird times. Did you know that the only union member in the presidential race (by marriage) is Todd Palin, Governor Palin's husband?

As a former newsie (but never at a Guild paper), I sympathize with what is going on there in your area.

Anne Johnson said...

Yeah, I'll bet Todd's local just loves him.