9.12.2009

post-labour day tribute to the value of organized labour

James sent me this tribute to labour unions, written by Some Canadian Skeptic, in honour of Labour Day. I don't usually note Labour Day, as I was taught that the end-of-summer weekend is the US Congress' appreciation of labour. The real Labour Day is May 1, which of course can't be officially celebrated in the US because of it is a reminder of scaaaaary socialism.

This excellent post by steveisgood is worth reading on any day. An excerpt:
I hear it all the time: Unions were fine once, but now they're corrupt, all of them! All they do is make business more difficult than it needs to be, and companies are closing because of Unions!"

I call epic bullshit.

Do your children have to work anymore? Thank a union.

Does your workweek cap at 40 hours? Thank a union.

Do you get health benefits? Thank a union.

Do you get maternity leave? Thank a union.

Do you get sick leave? Thank a union.

Does your workplace have safety-precautions? Thank a union.

Have a weekend? Thank a union.

Do you have more time off than time at work? Thank a union.

Do you get to retire one day? Thank a union.

Ever have a paid holiday? Thank a union.

Take a day off and not been fired? Thank a union.

Not been fired for being gay, black, or a woman? Thank a union.

Do you get overtime pay? Thank a union.

Have a minimum wage? Thank a union.

Has that minimum wage risen since the 1970's? Thank a union.

The "unions are bad because they are corrupt" angle doesn't hold a lot of water, and not because I deny that unions can be corrupt.

Unions are comprised of humans. Humans will be corrupt. Every human entity under the sun is prone to corruption. Few people call for the abolition of all co-op boards, student assemblies, or local softball leagues and curling clubs, although I guarantee corruption has been found at some of those at various times. Every human endeavour needs oversight, penalties, whistleblowers, changings of the guard, and other mechanisms to keep them honest. Proving those entities unnecessary or unworthy of our respect is another story.

I work in a notoriously non-unionized sector, and because of this, my co-workers and I have no rights.

The person sitting at the next desk may have more experience and better skills than me, but she is paid less than me, because the pay scale is arbitrary, subjective and dependent on good self-advocacy skills, even though such advocacy is not a job requirement.

When my employer protects its profit margin by dumping payroll - cutting staff, cutting benefits, and spreading the same workload among fewer people - I have two choices: comply or be unemployed.

These conditions could only be changed by one thing: collective bargaining. By employees joining together with a common representative. That is, by being a union.

Working as a professional writer is no better. In fact, I'd say it's worse because there are no objective standards. Unless one has a household-name to trade on (and even that rarity is no guarantee), writers have no rights. Fees, rights, payment schedules - all standards are tossed aside as publishers tumble ass-over-teakettle in a race for the bottom.

The only way I learned what my work is worth on the market, what to shoot for, how to negotiate, what to watch out for, was through my union. "This is the going rate!" "All our writers sign this contract. No one has ever complained before!" Too bad for them I knew that wasn't true. And I knew it because I was a union writer.

The next time you hear the old refrain - "Unions used to be necessary, but they're an outdated concept, they're no longer needed" - ask yourself: If unions are so unnecessary, why do the giant corporations fight them so? Why would Wal-Mart rather close a store than negotiate with a union?

Because unions help workers. A little less for shareholders, a better deal for workers.

Some Canadian Skeptic on "What Labour means to me"

5 comments:

geek guy said...

I love this post!!

L-girl said...

Thank you!

Some Person said...

It was odd growing up with a father who worked as a maintenance mechanic and was staunchly anti-union. Then again, he wasn't atypical for many working-class southern white men. Besides a few notable events such as the Gastonia, NC strike and the Belton, SC workers' march in the earlier 20th century, labor activism is a rarity here. It's that same mythologized independent yeoman farmer ethic that keeps unions out, states red, and wages low.

L-girl said...

"labor activism is a rarity here."

Where is "here"?

Some Person said...

The southeastern U.S., and even more specifically the SC-NC-GA tri-state area.