The media hold both labor and unions in such contempt today that today, the Denver Post --I'm spending the long weekend in the Rockies -- in its editorial cursorily noted the number of people not working and then called on local cops and firemen to forgo increases for the benefit of the city budget. I'm wondering when working people became a "special interest." The Washington Post --another not-so-liberal institution despite its image --turned antilabor when its pressmen dared to strike a few decades ago.
So now when a Democratic administration may even try to even the balance between management and labor by allowing card checks and arbitrating bargaining impasses, we get all this rot about the sanctity of the secret ballot. Corporations can get away with firing anyone who looks in the direction of a union, since few workers can afford to wait the years it would take for them to get their jobs back through the NLRB. But the image of some Lee J. Cobb-like union boss forcing hapless employees to sign cards gets thrown before us. (Cobb's portrayal of "Johnny Friendly" in Kazan's On the Waterfront was of course a work of genius.)
As you can see, I grew up in a union household. My dad worked for AFTRA and SAG, both entertainment unions, one representing radio and tv actors, the other movie players. He also had liked Ronald Reagan, America's only President who had been a union president, of SAG. Reagan had been a strong negotiator for the union years before and my dad remembered that. He never could reconcile it as he lived -- almost -- through a presidency that tried to destroy organized labor in the U.S.
Most people I know are quick to blast "union bosses" but have no problem with the corporate types who sent our economy crashing, and sell this country out every day, along with the sleazy bankers of all stripes who get bailed out by Uncle Sam but scream "socialism" when anyone talks about doing something for working people. Things have turned so bad for working people in terms of lack of jobs and lack of benefits if you have a job that a lot of people would join a union given the chance these days.
Sure, some unions have been crooked and betrayed their members. Others have stood in the way of progress. The article about disciplinary procedures for New York City teachers in the current New Yorker should embarrass the most stalwart labor supporter. But I'll take them over management lawyers and personnel types carrying out the orders of CEOs and boards to screw people out of their benefits. As the GOP tries to act like someone else governed America from 2001 to 2009, just remember who supported the greatest growth in inequality in our history.
I studied labor relations as an undergraduate and I still believe collective bargaining can work. This Labor Day, we might remember that you need some parity to have effective negotiation. When working people see that no one else has tried to get them better wages and working conditions but that the legal structure is now totally skewed in favor of the corporations, we might begin to have something to celebrate on the first Monday of September.