Big Business has achieved its greatest propaganda success in slandering the trade union movement in the United States. And Big Labor has unwittingly helped to bring about its own fall from grace. Back in the very early Sixties, when I was a labor reporter at the Toronto Star, some trade unions were invaded by a few evil influences – one (or two?) fell under the spell of Communism, a couple were taken over by gangsters.
It’s been a long time since I had any personal contact with trade unions, and I hope that the movement has cleaned up its act. If it hasn’t, we will all pay the price. For it was the trade unions that built America’s middle class. Without organization, America’s workers were exploited and abused. As far as mine workers were concerned, for example, Tennessee Ernie Ford hit the nail on the head with “Fifteen Tons.” They dug fifteen tons and what did they get? Another day older and deeper in debt.
The corporate power brokers would like to see a return to those days. You will recall, for instance, how the Republicans fought to break the United Auto Workers in the recent negotiations over the auto manufacturers’ bailout.
You might think that by now, the battle over unionization would be history in America. Canada has accepted trade unions as a natural part of the country’s society, and its labor laws reflect that acceptance. The same is true throughout most of Europe. In Jamaica, both political parties had their origins in the labor movement. But in America, unions have declined, as corporations and the Republican Party have waged a relentless war against them.
The current battle over the Employee Free Choice Act , which would let workers check a card to show they want to join a union, is a case in point. It is becoming one of the most expensive conflicts on Capitol Hill in many years. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which opposes the bill, spent $144.4 million on lobbying in the 2007-08 election cycle, compared to less than $84 million for all of labor, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Meanwhile, members of Congress who voted in favor of the bill collected 10 times more on average from unions ($862,065) than those who didn’t ($86,538). Those who opposed the bill received more on average from business ($2.5 million) than those who supported the legislation ($1.7 million).
Individual companies have joined the fray with a vengeance. Citibank and Wal-Mart are among those who have crusaded vigorously to block the bill, rallying support from retailers and intimidating employees and associates.
The Republicans have accused President Obama of “class warfare.” Yet it is the Republican Party and its Big Business buddies who are dedicated to wiping out the middle class. They are determined to create a society in which only the very rich and very poor survive. And they, of course, will be the very, very rich.
In the photo above, union members join Rep. George Miller, and Sen. Tom Harkin in a Washington, DC rally supporting the Employee Free Choice Act.