James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist

  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Posts Tagged ‘IWW’

Labor ‘wobbles’ or we all fall down: Belaboring a point about why unions matter

Posted by James McPherson on September 2, 2012

Labor Day is here, marking the unofficial end of summer–a time for every little rich kid to stop wearing white while poor kids risk getting maimed in factories. And if junior should happen to lose a limb or an eye while on the job, then mom and dad can spend some of their 60-hour work week trying to figure out how to pay the hospital bill, since their jobs provides no insurance.

What, that’s not how you think of Labor Day? You probably think I’m just exaggerating, perhaps to take another shot at the mean visions for America produced by folks lik Mitt RomneyPaul Ryan and Newt Gingrich. But no, I think that this weekend is the ideal time to remind us all of what we owe laborers in this country, particularly those laborers who fought to make things better for all workers–and therefore for all of us.

Remember when having a few Americans–say, more than 3,200 in a single year–die in mines was no big deal? Or when a person could be fired–or shot or lynched–for protesting dismal work conditions? You probably don’t remember it, but if some people (mostly Republicans) had their way we could go back there. There is no doubt that companies are doing better than their employees.

Admittedly, unions have been prone as other human endeavors to corruption, and some union members show a selfish, short-sighted streak when it comes to their neighbors–a regrettable attitude because it’s a view that (when held by others) weakens the influence of labor and the earning power of workers. The most notable example I’ve come across recently was a Wisconsin union worker (whom I won’t name) who offered a troubling combination of views within a space of moments.

“I can explain as best I can all of the horrible things that have happened to me in my work life, and everybody’s like, ‘Well, then find a new job,’ but it’s not that simple. And somebody still has to do the job one way or the other,” said the worker, who, according to the piece, “got really fired up in the fight to defend his union.”

“”I’ve never been involved in politics until what happened in 2011 was thrown in my lap, and I realized how much I’ve been affected by it,” he was quoted as saying–before then going on to complain about Obamacare:

“I don’t think that we should have a national health care plan [in which] everybody is put in the same category,” he says. “I feel like I joined the Department of Corrections, and I continue to work for the Department of Corrections because I have excellent health benefits. … So if health benefits are important to you, I feel like you should be able to go out and find a job where you can get excellent health benefits.”

Hmm. Really? When it comes to finding that a job with “excellent health benefits,” especially with ongoing Republican efforts to weaken unions, it seems as though someone might suggest “It’s not that simple.” And when it comes to those other less “excellent” jobs, it seems as though some wise person might point out, “Somebody still has to do the job one way or the other.” Right? Sigh.

By the way, if you’re too young to understand the pun in the headline above or don’t remember your labor history–or if you just want to see cool video of an old toy commercial–you can go here. And happy Labor Day, to all who work and all who wish they could in these difficult times. Below are a few of my favorite reminders of how far we have come, starting with the incomparable Paul Robeson singing the labor ballad “Joe Hill”–also sung by a trio in my church today (as my pastor, who preached about the value of work and workers, wore a long-sleeved T-shirt that had been given to her by the local sheet metal workers’ union), and which I’ve also heard performed in person by Utah Phillips.

P.S.: Here’s a quiz to test your knowledge of Labor Day.

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