Thursday, February 17, 2011

Unions in America

Yesterday I spoke with my sister about the Wisconsin bill that would destroy unions. She noted that Gov. Walker had said “well I have the votes to pass it,” and went on to say that she didn't understand how politicians can totally disregard the concept of what is best for the people and replace it with what's best for the people who vote for me (presumably some of the teachers and state workers may have voted for Walker); bi-partisanship continues to erode our country's well being in this way. Politicians, I'm not saying all of them, I am in fact from MN, home of one of the greatest Senators of all time the late Paul Wellstone, seem to forget that once elected they have a responsibility to uphold the rights and represent the interests of all their constituents.

Something I think about: what would our public schools and hospitals look like without unions? I firmly believe without unions the public schools would go downhill fast and middle-classers would want to start sending their kids to private schools, so we'd get more of them and the public schools would become less and less...and so on and so forth. Recall that public schools are REQUIRED for a democratic society. Recall that studies show that education decreases crimes, povery, and increases the health and overall well-being of communities. Recall that teachers don't get paid well as it is, have to fight on a regular basis to get raises, to keep benefits (currently most have agreed to a pay-freaze), and have one of the most important jobs in America.

Where I come from Iron Ore workers formed unions in the early 1900s. Folks could graduate high school (or not) and start out making $40-$50/year in recent times. At the moment its hard to get in there, but those who do make an incredibly livable wage for the area (av. cost of home less than $100K). These mines (obviously I don't agree completely with some of the environmental problems with mining) have continued throughout the past century and seem to remain a viable industry in the area regardless of paying their workers excellent wages, benefits, pensions. Unions made this small cluster of mining towns into homes for the immigrants who settled there—homes with amazing schools, beautiful churches, and a sense of community. St. Louis County (the county in which most of the mining towns are located) has until recently voted around 80% DFL, however, more amazing, in 2004 when I worked on a voter campaign in St. Louis county, 82% of eligible voters came out to vote. It was a presidential election, but that percentage is incredibly high which leads me to infer that people who come from Union homes understand the importance of voting. If you're involved with bargaining for your wages, you get the importance of your vote--you get democracy.

Union numbers are dropping across the US, along with viable working class jobs. My mom told me that MN has recently passed a number of anti-union laws. I had my own run-in with an anti-union busting nonprofit board at a homeless shelter, which unfortunately ended with no-union.

There's nothing to sum-up here. Just a concerned citizen's ramblings on Unions in America.

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