Wisconsin and the fight against labor

Seeing as we are going on the fourth week of watching Madison Wisconsin hosting upwards of 70,000 peaceful union protestors and multiple states taking advantage of the harsh economic climate to reduce workers to nothing more than wage slaves I thought it a good time to start a thread on organized labor in general. Other than me does anybody here have experience with unions? I grew up with them so I am somewhat surprised at times at how people view them. The ability to negotiate pay and benefits and arbitrate disputes is a major achievement that makes workers a partner with management, not a subject. Without an organization the individual cannot interface with management at any sort of parity. Good companies understand and encourage this.

Now the unions are energized, 70,000 people are camped out in 15f weather, even Michael Moore is shaking with anger (but that is kind of his default setting) and I wonder how many people are really buying this argument, union members make more money than non-union in almost every case, so let's not examine why wages have fallen over the past thirty years but instead try and reduce the pay for the union members.
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I've got to agree with Billy Bragg:


There is power in a factory, power in the land
Power in the hands of a worker
But it all amounts to nothing if together we don't stand
There is power in a Union

Now the lessons of the past were all learned with workers' blood
The mistakes of the bosses we must pay for
From the cities and the farmlands to trenches full of mud
War has always been the bosses' way, sir

The Union forever defending our rights
Down with the blackleg, all workers unite
With our brothers and our sisters from many far off lands
There is power in a Union

Now I long for the morning that they realise
Brutality and unjust laws can not defeat us
But who'll defend the workers who cannot organise
When the bosses send their lackies out to cheat us?

Money speaks for money, the Devil for his own
Who comes to speak for the skin and the bone
What a comfort to the widow, a light to the child
There is power in a Union

The Union forever defending our rights
Down with the blackleg, all workers unite
With our brothers and our sisters together we will stand
There is power in a Union.
Today it's collective bargaining they're demonizing and eliminating. Tomorrow it'll be the minimum wage, the 40 hr work week and children working in factories. Bastards. It's amazing any blue collar worker would support the party of Snidely Whiplash, J.R. Ewing and Ebenezer Scrooge. Hopefully, those that have will finally wakeup.

Originally posted by editengine:

Other than me does anybody here have experience with unions?

I've been a carded member of two or three, including a UAW affiliate.

I think the UAW should be nuked from orbit. Hard, and often. Anything resembling the UAW, really, should be hit in the mouth until its blood slicks the tiles and its teeth litter the floor. If I ran a private enterprise and the UAW rocked up waving its flags, I'd simply close the doors.

I have a lot of sympathy for teachers' unions, though, because wrangling the children of other people can be a perilous, verminous experience. (I've done that, too, though non-unionised.) Same for nurses, firefighters, cops, and others who go in harm's way on Uncle's payroll. I shit in the mouth of many other public service unions, though, specifically those whom I've observed chatting by the water cooler whle my tax dollars dribbled through the floor drain. Motor vehicles comes to mind. Passport office, too.

Are unions useful and necessary, as a concept? YES.

Are ALL unions useful and necessary? Not by a long chalk. There needs to be some culling.
I'm a member of the National Tertiary Education Union which has been very effective in rolling back some of the industrial relations bastardry of the Howard government in the universities.

Unions tend to be either uncritically damned on the basis of the worst examples or uncritically praised on the basis of the best: MOM has more of a balanced view.

I certainly shudder to imagine an industrial (broadly defined) landscape without them: anyone whose skills are not very rare would be beyond screwed.

And, in general, I think on balance unions do more good than harm.
How about we roll back some of those billionaire tax cuts, and punishing the people actually responsible for the financial troubles while we're busy cutting people's food and exorbitant-gas money and generally turning the US into China in order to pay the billion dollar salaries of bankers.

Alternatively, I'm up for some beheadings, 18th century France-style.
Unions in my country are a by-product of the internal fight for rights and social justice that rumbled after the revolution. However as other institutions most have become corrupted or muzzled. There have been historic instances where unions have struggled to stand against govt. policies, and repression happened; one of those back in the 60's when doctors and medical employees from the socialized health apparatus fought for better conditions. Their clampdown was one of the factors leading to other unions repression and the 1968 massacre in Mexico City.

Today unions are a mixed blessing. They do help for bargaining during accident and conflict arbitration, and to establish basic worker rights, but often, small companies or industries can end up in bankruptcy if they do happen to cross (either by malfeasance or lack of compliance to illegal demands) a corrupt union. At the same time, valid demands by workers can end up stifled if/when an union is in cahoots with government/company. Union leaders have traditionally been secure providers of support for political parties, having the power to easily provide masses of people to demonstrate, picket, fill the streets or cause riots.

Recent attempts from right-wing legislators to change basic tenets of labor laws (more globalist, 'competitive' guidelines for minimum wage, by-the-hour payments, worker benefits and retirement rules) have had strong opposition from labor leaders and other legislators, however, not always based on workers' wellbeing but political convenience for them and their allies in power.
It's all an ideological pissing match. Unions provide as much profit to business as they do costs. Historically the most profitable businesses in the USA had union employees.

I'm a businessperson. I would LOVE to have unions in my state and in my industry. Right now, if I ask a contractor for a Level II Measurement Technician, they send some guy and sure as shit, they charge me for a Level II Measurement Technician. But the guy ISN'T. I can either train him or run him off. That classification and many others are meaningless without unions.

Unions are the last bastion of reliable technical knowledge we have.

If my industry in my state allowed unionization, I would hire only from union contractors. My job would be easier and I'm certain my profits would increase.

But you can't tell that to a modern-day Republican and even if you could, and they believed it, they would still be against unions because it's all just a big political war to them.

They're too stupid to realize we're being charged union rates already, we're just not getting what we pay for.
Unions have their down sides, but you just cannot trust business to do the right thing.

I don't know what it is... yes I do. It's not one thing. First, it depends on the size of the business.

Once a business is run as a corporation, personal responsibility goes away. "The Board" made the decision to require all employees to submit to random cavity searches.

In the case of smaller businesses, once the revenue reaches a certain level, profit begins to get in the way of ethics. But this applies to both.

Growth, I think, is the main problem with capitalist business philosophy. Companies don't want to make a particularly good product at a static production number at a static profit.

What I mean is, I make a good quality binglesnazzer. I'm one of the top three binglesnazzer manufacturers in the Mid-West. (We've been making binglesnazzers here since 1907!)

The demand for binglesnazzers is modest. We make 1400 binglesnazzers a year. After overhead, the company makes 30 - 45% profit a year. We all make a decent wage, including the shop floor workers, but nothing extravagant, even for management. We expect things to continue like this until I, the Patriarch of the company, kick the bucket and my greedy kids take over and bleed the business white, then sell it off to a foreign competitor...

Oh fuck it. I'll be glad to leave this stinking planet full of glorified baboons.
I was on the Teamsters in the mid to late 90's. I realized they'd been effectivley defanged when they couldn't even manage to guarantee my check would arrive on payday.

After about the third time this happened, I walked out. Left them hanging. I was sick of threatening the company that had hired me, from the union, with what the union might do over failure to pay.

Because there was nothing they could do. The company (Cineplex Odeon, owned by Sony) was so much stronger and more organized, the union didn't have any recourse.

The unions were castrated back in the 80's. What we're seeing is the last dying gasp of a once strong behemoth.

Originally posted by Mean Old Man:
Trade unions (guilds) and labor unions do not exist for the exact same motives.

I know. The people in my industry in my state, do not. They even started calling hammer unions ( screwed fittings with hammer ears for putting pipe together quickly), "hammer couplings".

Stop! Hammer Time!
Originally posted by Bravus:
I'm a member of the National Tertiary Education Union which has been very effective in rolling back some of the industrial relations bastardry of the Howard government in the universities.

He might've been a little coconut with a Napoleon complex and a breathtaking overestimation of his importance on world stage, but he did get rid of compulsory student unionism. For that I'm eternally grateful.

It always made me wonder that the Student Union (actually, QUT is called a "Guild") play themselves up to be champions of the individual's rights when they eagerly seek fascism to ensure their survival and, more importantly, income. It also bothered me that students going on strike was actually seen to achieve something and somehow not be detrimental to the students themselves. Mostly student unionism is a chance for white, middle-class wankers to play out their Marxist fantasies in a safe environment without actually to, you know, do anything, all while leeching off those they claim to represent and being in bed with their chosen enemy (the uni itself.)

The QUT Student Guild's former office is now a lolly shop. They sell pineapple Fanta and A&W root beer. A significant improvement. I've gone in their much more often now.
I don't know that I would call that a 'union' in any real sense. My granddad came out of the orange groves as a kid. His dad died when he was young and his mom was a beast of a woman. He came to Tampa and got on with the longshoremen's local. After a few years he switched to the ibew local, electricians. He rose to master electrician and then ran for office. I recall attending elections at the union hall as a kid, and BBQs on labor day and other occasions. He was business manager for a number of years then became the president of the local afl-CIO chapter. This was back when such things were a big deal. You joined the union and THEY got you the work. When you were sick the union brothers stopped in to help out, mow the yard, take the kids to school etc. They had a membership at centro astoriano, a social club in the Cuban part of town, ybor city, that gave them access to the club doctor and hospital. This was before health insurance, a simple yearly fee covered it.

I had my first bank account set up with the union when I was a kid, a real credit union account. No fees at all, good interest, a teller who knew your name. I left when I went to work for GTE, changed to a diff ibew chapter and spent about 8 years with them. They earned their keep with me I'll tell you. GTE and more so verizon, was aggressive in trying to rule their employees lives. I called out sick once when I was out of vacation days and went away for the weekend. The company sent two manager to my home and tried to fire me for not being home when I said I was sick. The union saved my job then. There was always a steward available when the company tried to force too much overtime, or tell single moms they couldn't take calls from their kids schools while at work, or take away pensions, or fire people who weren't selling enough (verizon scrapped the customer service department and told us one day we were salespeople, that customer service was not profitable). Alone we would have been eeking out the same living as all the non-union call centers in town, no benefits, 30 hour workweeks at half the pay. But the union, even in a right to work state like Florida, made sure that didn't happen. Sometimes we had problems, the union staff after all were folks just like us. Maybe with a bit of training, when the national was able to fund it, and a comfort level with confrontation that a lot of regular members didn't have but they weren't professional negotiators. I have a lot of good stories, the steward that was arguing with the old operations manager, a class A dick. He was about to retire, $2 million buyout package, when he grabs the steward and knocked him into the wall. Bye bye $2 million. Or the picket line of field techs that came to help us protest the "end of customer service" that forced the company to explain to the media why verizon no longer had a customer service department. I went back to that little local credit union a few years back. I got tired of the big "federal" credit union I had joined that was a credit union in name only. The local credit union still had the teller that knew my name and the day I got a call to remind me that I wrote a rent check and "would you like to make a deposit so we can pay it?" was something no big bank or federal credit union would ever say to a customer! So unions, they aren't all the same, but in general you should understand that an employee/employer relation is inherently uneven unless you're a highly skilled worker. In these cases the union provides the structure to allow everybody from the crew leader to the janitor to look the CEO in the eye and shake their hand as a partner, not a servant.

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