Opinion

Labor unions benefit all employees

TORRENS TALK

The Northwest has been a birthplace of progressive ideas for a long time. One idea with a time that may be coming around again is the Wobblies. This group of union activists had a more formal name, the International Workers of the World.

Like many unions in this country, the word “international” in the IWW was more hopeful than factual. However, the time is coming when that may no longer be the case. As the world of work shrinks boundaries between countries, so, too, are the issues facing workers.

Low wages, sweatshop conditions, extensive work hours are all areas of common concern. Companies threaten to take their jobs elsewhere unless their employees accept the company’s meager offerings. It is these self-same issues that gave rise to the labor movement in this country about a century ago. It seems inevitable that unions will finally take their organizing outside of the country to places where their experience is desperately needed.

It took the organizing of unions to make the gains for workers in this country. At some point in the future, unions are going to need to cross boundaries just like business to ensure that all workers get their fair share.

Doing that will stop the exodus of good paying jobs since multi-national companies will find it harder to get people to work for slave wages.

Unions need to unite to provide the strength of numbers and power needed to counter the level of influence corporations now hold in the world market and make gains for all workers throughout the world. Just as it took time to convince workers in this country that being part of a union would get them what they needed and wanted, it will take time on the international stage. It will also take courage as it did for workers in the various fields of labor in this country. Seeing the film “Norma Rae” will give anyone a good taste for what people can face in trying to change the status quo.

At least that is what could happen assuming unions continue to exist. The number of workers represented by unions has dropped from more than 20 percent of the workforce to less than 9 percent in the last decade or so.

Sadly, there are those who would rejoice at that. They see unions as ruining the profitability of business thereby causing the economy and job market to shrink. Unfortunately, those folks are not really thinking about the implications of that position.

It is the unions that have given the American worker a five-day workweek, paid vacations, overtime, holidays, fair wages, benefits and decent, safe working conditions.

The presence of union jobs has also meant non-union job holders have benefited as employers must provide something comparable if they are to get any workers. In essence, the rising tide of union labor has raised the boats of all labor. One need only look at companies like Wal-Mart to see how their anti-union stance gives them a workforce accepting low wages and marginal to no benefits.

Unfortunately, it seems people have bought into the idea that unions are the ones responsible for high prices – after all, the workforce takes a big bite out of any business budget. Yet, no one seems to blink an eye at the exorbitant salaries and compensation packages the executive staff get.

Something is very wrong when no matter what a CEO does – look at Killinger at WaMu – they still get their multi-million-dollar compensation. If workers failed so abysmally, they would be fired without any type of severance pay.

Not so with the management.

If unions haven’t started looking to organize in other parts of the world, it is certainly time for them to think about doing it. When living wage jobs are the norm throughout the world, either through a union job or its presence in the area, people all over will benefit. It is the workers who produce the products that provide the wealth; it is past time for them all to share in some of it.

Val has been called a community activist — or agitator — depending upon one’s view. She contributes her time in the fields of arts, education, human rights, lacrosse, land use, politics and her Jewish community. Val has been an adjunct faculty member of OC since 1980 where she teaches political science and speech. She resides outside of Poulsbo with her husband and their pets.

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