And Then There Were None: America Without Unions by V.Lyn
In the 17oo’s- 1900’s most of Americas wealth was concentrated in 1 percent of the population. Does that sound vaguely familiar in the 21st century. There were the Super Rich and the Desperately Poor with those wealthy 1% having individual wealth in the billions. There were men like Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Astor, Girard, Carnegie and Biddle to name just a few. These were men from the oil industry, banking, real estate and shipping who amassed great wealth. It was also a time when we moving out of an agricultural economy to an industrialized one and men, women and children were leaving the farms for work in the textile industries, railroads, shipyards and into the homes of the wealthy as domestics.
Before the unions those men, women and even children as young as 6 years old worked 6days a week for a total of a 75 hour work week. Children labored for as little as $1 a week with their parents earning perhaps $2-3 a week. The jobs as well as the facilities they worked at were often unventilated unbearably hot in the summer and freezing and wet in the winter; they were also unsafe, rat, roach and lice infested. At textile, tobacco plants and the garment industries fires were commonplace. Children and adults were often hurt on the job or became sick because of the environment they worked in. If you were injured or became so sick you could not work you were fired and left to fend for yourself as there was no insurance. Mines, railroads, factory and shipyard accidents were commonplace and death for men, women and children was just a statistical fact. And though white workers had it horrific, Blacks had it worse as even after the shackles and the lash of slavery had finally been removed with emancipation, Companies, state, federal and the judicial system were complicit in re-enslaving blacks for free labor by incarcerating them on charges as frivolous as vagrancy and selling them off to work on farms, rail roads, steel mills etc. as the book ” Slavery By Another name” by Douglas A. Blackmon discusses. But greed and the indifference in corporate and in some corners of the politics of America, if you were poor whether you were Black, White, Native American, Chinese or Hispanic you had it bad because you were invisible as a human being and seen only in the relationship of monetary/labor value.
Wealth was concentrated with a few and that was how they wanted to keep it and it was not unusual to see corporate influence manifest itself in the political arena. With the growth of the union and its demand for fair wages all workers benefitted because they needed to stay competitive to entice men and women to work for them and the middle class begans to rise. In the last 50 years however due to the concerted effort by big business and the republicans to topple the unions, “bust them”, through the age old tactic of disinformations and propaganda union membership has began to decline and so has the power of the American worker and the American middle class has stagnated. While there are many philanthropic wealthy and super wealthy Americans both now and in the past, who strive to give something back to the community at large, and who have worked hard to obtain their wealth, the fact is that there are many who are not as altruistic and seek more not to be come richer but to become more powerful shaping the politics of America and the world. Still while they amassed great wealth the poor worked for “starvation wages”. This may have continued had it not been for the labor unions and the journalist who were called ‘muckraker” for uncovering the dirt on workers conditions, had not rallied behind the American poor. Their fight for government action eventually gave rise to the middle class as their demands for fair pair and better work conditions were given.
But Americans have a short memory and a penchant for re writing it’s history. Love of country does not mean a blindness to it’s faults, being optimistic about the nature of man doesn’t mean we have to cede reason, wanting to support the American economy and corporations doesn’t mean one needs to be deaf, dumb and blind, and when one thinks that without some safe guards in place that Companies whose bottom line is profit will be fair to the American worker I believe you are delusional. If that were true we would never had the working conditions of the past that existed to some degree into the 21th century . If that were true women would be earning equal pay, if that were true we would not have had the outright greed and malfeasance perpetrated by Wall Street and Banks in this most recent recession. If companies cared about the American workers and their livelihood they would not have sat on trillions of dollars instead of reinvesting and hiring workers to help solve the recession they created. If all people were altruistic and honest jails would be empty.
Now people will say we have federal laws governing how we can be treated at the job but those laws have a multitude of ways that companies can get around them, loopholes that therefore favor the employer and not the worker. In an America without unions, we would still have companies sending their jobs overseas to sweat shops because they want cheap labor to create the goods we buy at exorbitant prices. In an America without Unions when unemployment is so hire if you refuse to work excessive hours you will be told you are fired and you will have no recourse. You can complain but without the strength of a nation of voices what power do you think you will really have? When they cut your hours so that they do not have to help pay for benefits what power do you think you have with out someone to stand united with you? When you have to take on extra jobs at your work place to cover for that co-worker who has been terminated, but have to do it in the shorten hours you have been given for no extra pay and without the benefits because you are working 34 hours 1 hour short need for you to get your health benefits, who will you complain to? The person who crafted your work schedule? And if so what do you think they will say…take it or leave it…because either way there will be someone waiting gratefully in the ring to take your seat even if its at starvation wages and all the while the rich get richer.
An America without Unions will be the American workers nightmare!
Send a message of support to those courageous state workers and democratic senators of Wisconsin and let them know that you stand in solidarity with them as they fight for not just their rights but the rights of all American workers! Pride in Unity, Strength in Numbers!
- Lynn Parramore: Amity Shlaes’s Forgotten History: When Unions Go Bust, We All Do (huffingtonpost.com)