A friend recently moved to Evansville, Indiana. He’s been a life-long liberal thinker, but has probably never worked a union job. He’s fairly talented and enterprising and desires to build his own business, having experience in that field already. He has always respected my opinion (being several years my junior) and occasionally seeks out my advice. The move to Indiana was precipitated by family residing there; he was only there a few weeks when he called with a strange request. Could I and would I write about his daughter’s employment situation? Then he went on to explain.
It seems this young single mother is making “good money” on an assembly line making car parts for a foreign car manufacturer. The hook is this; get hired, learn the job, show your ability to produce, and 8 hour days become 10 hour days. Be successful at that and 5 day weeks become 6 day weeks. Produce, produce, produce. Six 10 hour days/week. A single mother with precious little time for her family, making ‘good money’. There’s the rub, they hire these people -desperate for a decent paycheck- who will do or attempt to do anything to achieve it. They push them, take all of the productivity they can from them, and then start creating ways to make it harder to comply. Once they’ve used them up, they toss them aside and get new ones.
Such a terrible system. So far removed from my father’s America; the America of the “Greatest Generation”, those men who went off to war, came home to build a better life. I sat pondering this situation, wandering what, if anything can be done about it. My upbringing and gut instincts have always told me that we should stand up for what is right. As I tried to mull a possible blog post, quite probably a rant, the door opened and my sister-in-law came in. Wonderful lady – my wife is lucky to have a sister who cares about her so much. Her work career however has been radically different than that of the rest of her family; they are largely union people. I’m not saying that she is anti-union, just that she has found herself at an age and time in her life (and in America in the 21st century) where she has ended up working in a local factory that is distinctly anti-union and always has been.
As she and I sat exchanging pleasantries and chit-chat, the discussion turned to kids. Her only daughter is a teacher who probably earns twice what her mother does. My wife and I have two sons who are severely under-employed. I asked my sister-in-law about the staffing situation at her workplace. She promptly told me that they started everybody at $9.50/hr, but that they only hire through an agency that then takes $1/hr from the checks of the “new hires”. She added that this company is having difficulty staffing one of their production lines. It seems that they are short workers for their “night shift”, 7pm to 7am. When I commented that those 12 hours are tough for young people, she told me that they are working these folks 7 days/week! WOW! Having problems getting people to work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week ? Lazy, worthless Americans! And just a few years ago, this company ran an ad in the local newspaper that read “If you enjoy working in a non-union environment”. Really!
Round and round in my mind all of these details were going. I had recently written about CAT, Inc., bringing jobs from Canada to Indiana, in a deal that saved CAT about $20/hr. Now, on this day, in a matter of an hour, I had a call about a young single mother in America’s heartland being worked beyond having a life with her children, AND a discussion about a company that is “having trouble” getting employees to work a scant seven 12hr days/week. This day was only getting better. That afternoon, my brother and one of his buddies stopped to visit. These two are both “bootstrap” construction type guys, 50-ish, accustomed to working in a much looser environment than those of which I’ve spoken. During the course of the conversation, one of them said something about not objecting to working “4 10s”. Then it occurred to me.
That is where it all started to get away from us.
Dad had known that when it started and had warned me of it. It all took so long evolving, that I hadn’t really seen it, even though I watched every step of it. Once people showed “THEM” that we were willing to work more than 8hrs/day, the rest was a natural enough progression. After the days became 10hrs, it was just a matter of time until the week reverted back to 5 days, then 6 days, then 10hrs became 12 hrs…. You see where I’m going here ? Yes, we have all watched it happen, seen it all go down. Do you remember the 2003 effort of the Bush administration to do away with overtime pay ? Does Scott Walker’s move make anymore sense to you now ? “THEY” only need keep us divided and envious to keep us poor and willing to do “THEIR” bidding. Union jobs do not “fall out of the sky!” They are made union by the people with courage and strength enough to stand for what is right. This is my upbringing; my passionate belief.
My gravest concern has become that companies -GREEDY CORPORATIONS- have adopted the lock-out as their weapon of choice. Even those who stand, united, and demand fair treatment now find themselves negotiating not with how well the company has done with the good performance of their workers, but rather by “community standards”. In Williamson, NY, the Mott’s Applesauce company demanded concessions from their workers, not because they weren’t making money, but because the people across town didn’t pay that well. To top that off, there is a constant, unending supply of SCAB labor. In my own experience (albeit I didn’t know in 1987 that they were allowed to hire permanent replacements) Dad had told me that we would never get people to stick together. To everyone’s amazement, 93% of us stood firm! It was the community that helped the GREEDY CORPORATION, our own neighbors sold us out, took our jobs. It happens everywhere these days. Even places that have traditionally had “good labor relations” are demanding concessions because they can. They know the playbook. Lock-out the union members and hire their neighbors. Such a shame!
And this is where the idea of not crossing a picket line comes in.
See, if we start building unions again -which we basically have to do in order to reassert our rights as human beings who deserve a 40 hour week and a living, not subsistence wage- we all have to stand together. We cannot say to ourselves or each other, “Oh, I’m getting more or less decent pay, so I don’t care about the people in this picket line.” We have to see this erosion of our rights as something we ALL have to redress together, something we have to push for and maybe even sacrifice for at times – TOGETHER. Whatever our differences in politics, race, sex, orientation, – these must cease to matter. Corporations sure don’t care. They simply want to divide us in every way possible so we don’t stand up for and with each other. Our best weapon is simply in standing together, in unionizing so that we speak to any corporation with a united voice through our duly elected union stewards and representatives. And yes, it means going on picket lines. And not crossing those of others.
The more people who unionize and win better wages, hours and rights to be represented by union members of our choice, the more power all unions acquire and the better everyone’s working conditions become. We rebuild the middle class. Once more our job places become democratic, not authoritarian.
And it all starts by not crossing picket lines. And by marching in our own.
You read and you can see what our children are going through at their workplaces. It is time to give them hope for their futures and reclaim a voice in our own.
DON’T CROSS THAT PICKET LINE. NEVER, EVER CROSS A PICKET LINE!