For God’s Sake (Don’t) Look for the Union Label

Posted on February 24, 2011


I was raised in a very socially conservative household, my grandparents weren’t sure the Baptists were going to enter the Pearly Gates of HEAVEN because they used a piano in worship, we were members of the Church of Christ; strictly acapella. God rest her soul, my grandmother stopped watching soap operas (she was a CBS woman, As the World Turns, Guiding Light, etc) because they had become too ‘vulgar’. She felt that she had to turn off the boob tube because her beloved ‘stories’ had too much sex, too much adulteration, too much fornication. This was in 1984.

I say that to give you a little backdrop for our democrat home. See, we were gun toting and God fearing but voted the donkey ticket for one simple reason. It fed us. Right after WW2 my grand daddy came home and joined Local 659, it’s a labor union that represented welders and pipe fitters. For over five decades James Sliger worked for this union, building the Titan missile silos in South Dakota for Uncle Sam in the early 50’s, ‘striking an arc’ at additions to Angus Chemical in Sterlington, working on major building projects across the south and new constructions at every paper mill within 300 miles of Monroe, La.

He was a union man. I was just a little boy in the 1970’s when Louisiana became a ‘right to work’ state. My grandfather wasn’t happy because after that, he had to travel to work. A lot.

In the 1950’s, the era so many consider to be ‘the good old days’, labor unions like the one that enabled my grandfather, a high school dropout in his early 20’s, achieve his version of the American Dream, helped build the USA’s middle class. They empowered ordinary folks.

Today, much of America has done what my home state did over 30 years ago, they’ve said no to labor unions. Union members make up 7% of America’s private workforce today. They comprise 36% of the public workforce. Forgive me for being redundant here, but that means SIXTY FOUR (64%) percent of teachers, sanitation workers and correctional officers ARE NOT union members.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is attempting to destroy American labor unions. It’s wrong.

I know, $55 an hour janitors at GM and other American auto workers was a bad idea. As a parent I grit my teeth when I encounter a teacher who ‘phones it in’ at my daughter’s school and I know tenure provided by teacher’s unions are partly to blame.

But labor unions brought us the minimum wage, the eight hour work day, the forty hour work week. And I’m as American as apple pie and baseball, but if you think capitalism gave us maternity leave, paid leave and employer-provided health insurance, among other benefits we take for granted today, then Michelle Bachmann must be your history teacher. Google ‘history of the American Labor movement’ and learn how the United States government sided with industry, how the PRESIDENT of the USA deployed military troops to break up strikes,to harass, torture, and in some cases, murder their fellow citizens. Labor unions, people power, changed all that.

As I said earlier, Louisiana was way ahead of the curve when it comes to union busting. In 1981, when President Reagan fired the nation’s air traffic controllers we had already been a ‘right to work’ state for years. All the southern coastal states are, Arkansas, Tennessee too. The deep south did away with unions long ago. How did that work out for us here in northeast La? Think our employment situation has improved? How about those other states? Google the right to work states map and see where the jobs are.

It bears repeating;Union members make up 7% of America’s private workforce today. They comprise only 36% of the USA’s public workforce. Are they really the problem? Is adding more to our nation’s 30+ years of union busting (or making history as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker describes it) the solution, will it resurrect a manufacturing base that has fallen to ruins, coincidentally, during the same time period?

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