Modern adversity requires past unity
Published: Thursday, September 27, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 27, 2012 20:09
You would have to close your eyes to avoid the monumental battles and landmark court rulings between employers, employees and labor unions that have been going on across the globe. From teachers in Chicago that went on strike Sept. 10 to the NFL’s somewhat -televised contractual dispute with its professional referees, the recession has made the debate between management and workers that much hotter.
How hot you ask? Hot enough to force people working tough, low-paying jobs in inner-city schools to strike at the same time that tough, high-paying jobs on the gridiron are being locked out.
An examination of the newest NFL lockout is the perfect representation of how our country regards labor disputes. We don’t care about them until they are noticeable. We do not care about a referee lockout until a call gets blown for our team, or a mass transit strike until our train does not arrive at the station.
Not only does the American public avoid noticing a labor issue until it sees a picket line, but the popular perception of these disputes is that employees need to quit their bellyaching and get back to work.
What many do not understand is that labor in this country has reasons to be discontent. In modern America, organized labor has been vilified and shunned as something which resembles organized crime. And why not? News coverage of strikes is negative for reasons that are obvious. Anyone with a brain can understand why big-money media outlets would want to portray strikers as rabble-rousers and anyone with enough patience to read “The Grapes of Wrath” would understand why they are not.
If the average working-class American took heed of the cases these unions plead, and their pleas from days long past, they would understand that many things we take for granted now were the hard-fought victories of hard-pressed unions. The 40-hour work week, overtime pay, pensions, sick leave, lunch breaks and laws preventing discrimination in the workplace would not exist if not for past strikes.
The recession in this country began in the end of 2007. According to an article in the Atlantic titled “How the Great Recession Proved, Beyond a Doubt, the Value of a College Degree,” between December 2007 and January 2010 approximately 5.6 million people with a high school diploma or less lost their jobs and through February of this year had yet to find another.
I cannot make sense of why so many Americans think of unions in such a negative light, but I tend to think it is because they are labeled as socialist. And you know what? They are. So are public libraries and public schools.
It is time that this country realizes that no ideology is devoid of good ideas. Labor unions are the acknowledgement that an individual can be paid off, dismissed or summarily silenced, but that together people are able to accomplish anything.
This is by no means the promotion of a utopian commune where everybody owns the same clothes and eats the same food. This is simply an open mind saying that hero worship is more dangerous than villainy. Hero worship leads people to believe that somewhere, someone exists who can solve all their problems. Hero worship convinces people that John Wayne will ride out of the sunset to duel the Great Recession mano y mano, and that cooperation is counterproductive.
Labor and democracy go hand in hand, and while both are far from perfect they at least give everyone a chance. Am I telling you to join a union? No. I am asking you to understand that in a sport that is projected to raise $7 billion there is enough money to provide a referee with a pension and that teachers at struggling schools should not be punished or threatened with pay decreases because of standardized test scores.
Let’s help each other out.