Monday, September 1, 2014

Hurray for Unions! Labor Day Meditation

Labor Day Meditation--2014

My family, surely like yours, is from a long line of hard workers. My father was a factory worker, a blue-collar worker. He was a union man nearly all his working life, after escaping the pathetic wages of Cleveland Trust in Willoughby, where there was no union protection. His first union job was as a repairman on diesels for the New York Central Railroad in the Collinwood Yard. After maybe 8 years there, he left because the diesel exhaust exacerbated his asthma. He then worked briefly for Thompson Products, in Euclid, then Fisher Body, on the Cleveland-East Cleveland border, East 140th and Coit Road. There he was a member of the United Auto Workers. He made a decent salary, got a respectable retirement, and had all the benefits of union membership. Who other than a union would stand up for his interests against the world’s largest and richest company, General Motors? Their goal was to maximize profits for their stockholders—not ensure my Dad a decent wage, safe working conditions, and an honorable retirement. Only the union—workers organized together to advocate their needs and interests—only the union could do that.

I have had many crummy, dangerous jobs, with no union protection. I also had two decent college jobs with no union protection. I was unjustly fired from one of those jobs. At both jobs there was no one, no organization that would stand up for my rights. One person made a decision, based on who knows what, and you had no recourse. It was work at will, fire at will. That was the case in Kentucky. And it is the case in Ohio, especially if you have no union protection.

Since 1988 I have been in a strong union, the Lakeland Faculty Association—part of the Ohio Education Association (OEA). Our union is the most democratic organization I have ever seen. It is full of strong, even brilliant leaders, who work for our union for free. We all work for Lakeland Community College. Though a fairly benevolent organization, the interests of the administrators are not necessarily our interests. Institutions like this are thoroughly organized, with deep deep pockets that can help insure that they will get their way. It makes sense for us to be organized as well. Only our unity and organization can begin to match up against their deep pockets. Only our union assures that we will be treated with respect, be compensated adequately, and be treated with consistent and fair due process in all matters.

Unions make sense for workers. They are as democratic as you want them to be. When up against powerful corporations or institutions, they are workers’ only chance.

Lakeland teachers, late August 2014

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