Unions have been under attack by right wing demagogues for as long as they have existed, but since the supposed economic slowdown and debt limit ‘controversy’, unions have been the target of shocking and unacceptable verbal abuse. Unions have been assigned appallingly childish labels like ‘moochers’ and ‘leeches’, whereas in reality all they are trying to do is secure a decent living for the average American worker and protect important American institutions.
A Brief History of Unions
Since their inception, unions have always played an important role in society, but today they are a more powerful force for good than ever before. Originally, unions were simple voluntary associations that negotiated wages on the behalf of a group of workers. But unions soon discovered that voluntary membership was very limiting. When the membership fees were too high, workers refused to join; and when the bargains were too risky, workers were afraid of getting fired. Union leaders were forced to significantly lower their fees and water down demands. Union leaders soon realized that voluntary membership just wasn’t working, and so they started to make deals with companies and politicians to require membership as part of employment contracts. Unions also realized that bargaining with managers wasn’t enough. What they really needed was to introduce laws that guaranteed the wages, pensions and job security of their workers.
The Battle for Workers’ Rights
Unions are no longer the simple bargaining groups that they started out as; they have now become powerful agents for political change. Much of our legislative progress over the last century has been the work of courageous unions. Most of the forward thinking licensing laws were invented by unions to ensure that only accredited workers were able to enter their lines of work. Thanks to unions we now have licenses for almost all professions. Everyone thinks they can be a taxi driver or a truck driver, but now they have to prove it first by earning (or buying) one of the limited licenses issued by the government. The minimum wage was also invented by unions to make sure that workers couldn’t undercut each other’s wages and thereby impinge on worker’s rights. The minimum wage has given millions of disadvantaged workers the wages they deserve, much to the dismay of big shot corporate executives and free market purists.
Of all unions, government unions have probably endured the most appalling abuse from right wing hate groups. In particular, conservatives often torment government workers about their supposedly ‘over-sized’ pensions. Since when has it been a crime to be compensated for a lifetime’s dedication to serving public needs? In my opinion the most courageous unions of all are the teachers’ unions. Teachers are frequently singled out by conservatives because of their supposedly ‘lengthy’ vacations, large pensions and job security. But what the critics fail to understand is just how hard it is to be a teacher. Teachers work harder than almost any other profession, and the work they do is more important than any other job. Education is the cornerstone of a progressive democracy, and if we want a world class education system, then as tax payers we need to pay our fair share. Government unions have been extremely successful in the fight for worker’s rights, and have secured some of the most generous compensation packages and pensions for their hard working members. And despite all the abuse that government workers receive, the truth is that all they are asking for is a fair wage and pension for their contribution to society. I think it’s time that we gave unions the credit they deserve for their courageous contributions to society, for doing more than anyone else to advance worker’s rights and for pioneering much of the progressive legislation that we all benefit from today.