September 1, 2014. Labor Day. It’s hard to believe that it could already be September. With all the rain and cool weather of the past several months it feels like Summer has practically passed us by. Except for mowing the lawn…that has faithfully returned as often as twice a week, thanks to all the natural water and cool days and nights.
Labor Day was the first nationally recognized holiday specifically for the American worker. Harkening back to a time of 12 – 16 hours days, often times 7 days a week in frequently brutal workplaces – factories, mines, steel mills, stock yards – Labor day became the “working man’s” holiday. That rare occasion to have a work free day, enjoy time with family, and relax. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s page on Labor Day,
“Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”
So, what has happened to the labor movement in America as we have progressed through the 20th Century and into the 21st? Is the labor movement still as strong as it once was? Is there still a need for organized labor representation – Unions?
Well these are just my ramblings, but then again, this is my blog. As someone who spent half of their career in the private, non-union sector, and the other half as a union member, I think I do have some knowledge on which I can base my musings.
Without any doubt whatsoever, the organized labor movement has lost steam and thus power, in the U.S.
Union’s were borne of the need to protect the American worker. As noted before, the hours were long, the conditions deplorable, the pay abysmal, and there were no protections for worker’s health and safety, or for their families if they became disabled or killed on the job. Unions stepped in and through organizing workers into groups, allowed the worker to have a stronger voice in demanding
better pay and benefits. The threat of having their entire workforce strike and halt production made many large companies find true benefit in valuing their workers more.
The effects of organized labor’s efforts have spilled over into other non-organized area’s also. Workers in most fields in the U.S. today – unions and non-union – enjoy benefits that were derived directly by the working class demanding better pay, benefits, and treatment. These actions led directly to the creation of the great “middle class.”
So why have Unions lost so much of their power and influence? Because of what I would simply call Entitlement. Unions and their members have gone from being thankful for what they fought so hard for and rightly earned, to believing they are entitled to it. They believe that they no longer have to work to maintain those benefits, that they should simply be granted for life. Unfortunately, business doesn’t work that way, and truth be told, the world has a short memory.
As example, the American auto industry suffered greatly, and to some extent still does, because Japan (and now Korea) turned out cheaper cars that were higher quality than the Big 3. Why? They used cheaper labor and demanded higher quality. Meanwhile in the U.S., we had workers on assembly lines turning out a lower quality product while earning more money per year than teachers, firefighters, police officers, and many, many office workers. Adding insult to injury, American’s were expected to pay tens of thousands of dollars for an inferior product based on the marketing concept of “American-made.” In fact, consumers were made to feel un-American if they didn’t buy American when, in fact, they simply wanted a higher quality car. It pleases me, that today, we are reassuming control of that market again based on quality and not cajoling.
There are still many facets of the union mindset at play today that must be overcome. Horrible employees who companies find next to impossible to fire because they made it past their first year on the job and now benefit from unreasonable and extraordinary protections. Quality workers within the union itself, who suffer as lower quality and less productive employees invoke their “seniority” status for better shifts, opportunities, and work-free holidays – an entitlement based not on work quality but simply time on-the-job.
Well, as Bob Dylan sang, “The times they are a changin…” Union’s went from garnering much needed benefits for workers to being the purveyor of sloth, laziness, and poor quality. Union’s now suffer as American businesses and politician’s work to pass “right-to-work” laws all over the nation. Laws that say that just because a job once required an employee to join the union, that is no longer a must. The employee is now able to state, “No. I am not paying unions dues while my rights are eroded. I will simply go it on my own.” In time, this too will backfire, and there will be a rise of a new labor movement. Until that happens however, continue to expect quality in many products to lack, while costs go up and we continue to see imports from overseas eat away American market share.
For more information of Labor Day, check out the U.S. Department of Labor’s site at: http://www.dol.gov/laborday/history.htm