Monday, February 28, 2011

We Don't Need Unions? Really?

My father hated the Teamsters.  He thought the leadership was nothing but a collection of mobsters and thugs, and his union dues did nothing but finance activities he would not condone.  And yet, he was the person who brought the Teamsters to the company where he worked.

He did so because the large baked goods company that he drove for in Philadelphia rejected his request that the trucks he and his fellow workers operated be outfitted with heaters.  

To any rational human being, such a request would seem quite reasonable, especially in an area where temperatures often dropped below freezing in the winter.  And yet, the men who could have improved the working conditions of their employees refused to do so, for no other reason than this: they could.

They could, because my father, asking alone, had no power.  They could, because their employees, asking alone, had no power.  Only when the employees joined forces with the Teamsters, who could shut down transportation citywide, and nationwide if necessary, did the company decide to pay for the heaters that could keep their employees from getting frostbite on the job.

This is the lesson that the nation's workers and politicians need to remember as they watch the government employees in Madison, Wisconsin, fight to retain their right to unionize, and their union rights.  We are still at the stage as a civilization where the only counter to wealth is numbers, the only weapon against power is organization.