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Sacramento, CA: Three reasons people who work for a living should support unions
The Sacramento Bee
David A. Zonderman

May 23, 2011
View the Original Article

The current assault on collective bargaining rights shows that ideology and smash-mouth politics can triumph over economic reality.

Unions did not cause our economic mess: Greedy bankers drove the financial system to the brink of collapse. Moreover, public workers' desire for decent wages and benefits is not busting state budgets: The same recession is starving states of essential revenue.

Destroying unions will do nothing to create more jobs or balance budgets, but it will further impoverish millions of American workers.

Yet, with the national union membership rate barely more than 10 percent, why should the rest of the work force care about unions? There are three reasons everyone who works for a living should want to rebuild the American labor movement.

First, if you want a job with a living wage and decent benefits, then you want a strong labor movement. When unions decline, many workers - whether organized or not - see a drop in their standard of living. And driving wages down does not help the American economy, which is dependent on strong consumer spending.

Second, if you like spending time on the weekends with your friends and family, then you want a strong labor movement. Unions struggled for many decades to get laws mandating an eight-hour day, a minimum wage and a ban on child labor. Given what is happening across the country today, with basic rights being heaved out the window, working people need unions to preserve the gains we have made.

Finally, if you believe in a healthy democracy, then you want a strong labor movement. Many unions work for more than just good wages and benefits; organized labor has also campaigned for access to affordable health care and for protecting the human rights of immigrant workers.

So regardless of whether you belong to a union, every working American should be worried about the current open season on workers' rights.

If the labor movement is weakened further, we will lose one of the last bulwarks against unbridled corporate greed and one of the last champions for dignity at work and a decent standard of living.


David A. Zonderman teaches American labor history at North Carolina State University. He wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine. Readers may write to the author at: Progressive Media Project, 409 East Main Street, Madison, Wis. 53703; e-mail: pmproj@progressive.org; Web site: www.progressive.org. For information on PMP's funding, please visit http://www.progressive.org/pmpabout.html#anchorsupport.

This article was prepared for The Progressive Media Project and is available to MCT subscribers. McClatchy-Tribune did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy-Tribune or its editors.