I'm no history scholar, but I do know that when people gather to protest, big things happen.
No, I'm not talking about Egypt or Bahrain.
I'm talking about Ohio and Wisconsin, two states with recently-elected Republican governors who have decided that public employees should no longer have collective bargaining rights.
So what? Who cares about unions? Unions are too big and their employees are too well paid?
People today seem to have no idea what unions have done for the middle class. Without unions, I probably would not be middle class. My dad worked for Ford and was in the United Auto Workers. My mom was a teacher and was in the teachers' union. They paid for me to go to college and graduate school where I am now a member of the teachers' union.
I agree that some things might go too far. For instance, some public employees are allowed to carry over vacation hours and sick hours, adding them up until they are paid a huge sum at the end of their working years. I think workers should take vacation days or lose them. Same with sick days. They are there in case people are sick, not to add a pot of gold at the end of your career.
Still, we mustn't forget our history or else we're doomed... well, you know.
Long ago, workers were told by their employers how many hours a day, how many days a week they would work, and how much they would be paid. If they didn't like it, the employers would simply hire other employees. Workers had no power, no minimum wage.
In 1825, carpenters in Boston were the first to strike for a 10-hour work day. In New Jersey in 1835, children in a silk mill went on strike asking for an 11-hour work day, 6-day work week. What were they working before, I wonder?
People died as they fought for the right to form labor unions. Governments, police and companies sent in armed men. Bombs were set off. Men, women and children all died fighting for workers' rights. Coal miners and railroad workers, teamsters and garment workers. Teachers and police officers. They banded together to have some power.
Unions helped force safe working conditions and helped women gain footholds in the workplace.
In 1938, the United States passed the Fair Labor Standards Act that banned child labor and upheld a 40-hour work week. Thank you, labor unions.
Medical benefits -- thank you, labor unions.
I see letters to the editors criticizing unions. People today have no inkling of a world where the workers have no power, where the workers are doomed to lower class wages with no chance of making enough money to buy a house and send their children to college.
People defend companies like Walmart that refuse to allow their workers to form unions, even as Walmart employees bleed money from the state as their children fill our Medicare rolls. A Georgia survey found that WalMart was the largest private employer whose workers' children were on state medicare. A union that helped employers gain fair pay and medical coverage might even save our states enough money to balance those out of control budgets.
And that might convince states like Ohio and Wisconsin to focus on other ways to save money, rather than aiming for the backs of the workers and taking away their rights to collective bargaining.
See a timeline of labor unions at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_labor_unions_in_the_United_States
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