Some people go on and on about labor unions as if they’re some kind of STD, so un-hip to the reality that the Labor Movement is us, We the People.
Who else labors?
As far as my relations with unions is concerned, if it hadn’t been for the San Diego Teachers Union I wouldn’t have enjoyed the time of a lifetime, a period of three years where I put work aside and took a “Parental Leave,” the first such leave taken by a man in the school district.
I don’t know how that wonderful opportunity made it through all the stancing and dancing required to get a contract signed. I think it must have happened as kind of an after thought, something put on the table as part of a tooth fairy like wish to mess with management’s mind, and the district must have gone along with it in a “Whatever, if it sails your boat” frame of mind, knowing they weren’t going to give up much more. That’s how negotiations go in the labor movement sometimes.
But, hey, I jumped like a contestant in a slam dunk contest at the chance to just hang out with my newly born twin girls and their mom without having to show up for running a school for a while. That time in my life ranks as the fondest of my memories of life with my family. And that loss of three years of “Pension Benefits?” No sweat. Not a single regret. It hasn’t dampened the joy of my “Retirement” in any way. Just knowing that I, because of the union, was guaranteed a job equal to the one I had when I took off, took care of my needs and desires.
And the joy of which I speak is the feeling that comes with having worked since the age of five and now 69 years later having funds deposited in my bank account every month for as long as I remain alive. That this deal is one of the Labor Movement’s greatest accomplishments is a notion to which I subscribe.
And for that, alone, I’m a union kind of person to the bone. When I was working and didn’t feel too well I’d call my area director on the phone to let her know I was staying home. “Sick Leave.” And I’d go to the doctor because I had “Health Benefits” going back to the days when I was a beginning teacher making what some jokers considered a “Living Wage.” A barely liveable wage is what it was but over time the union made progress towards gaining better compensation, always fighting, sometimes resorting to striking. That’s what “We the People,” the unions, are supposed to do. Or it won’t get done.
So when I hear folks bashing the Labor Movement I just don’t understand. What’s served but madness if we rail against ourselves?
I mean the Labor Movement played a major role in gaining “Civil Rights,” our most precious of rights, our right to political and social freedom and equality.
Without the Labor Movement I wonder who we would be and what we would do without, say, OSHA and what would life be like if there was no “Unemployment Insurance” or “Child Labor Laws” or “Social Security” or no such things as “Work Place Power” or “Minimum Wage” or “Grievance Procedures” or “Workers Comp” or “Paid Vacations” or “Overtime Pay?” And how about “Domestic Partner Benefits” which helped pave the way to further conversations and actions seeking more rights and opportunities for people who are gay?
And let’s not forget everybody’s favorite gift from the Labor Movement: “The Weekend!” Oh, we love it so much it makes us yell to the sky, or mutter in a sigh, “TGIF!” Time off! Party time! For me it was a time for my children’s soccer games and hockey games and t-ball games and baseball games and track meets and swim meets and piano and dance recitals – sprinkled with causes of my heart like taking a stand with Cesar’s United Farm Workers in behalf of “Farm Labor Rights,” chanting in front of giant grocery store chains: “Don’t Buy California Grapes!” With strawberries, tomatoes, Gallo Wine and Campbell Soup getting their due too at other times.
The Labor Movement has a long colorful exciting history that’s been totally about us yet there are some among us who seek to make all that the movement has done, history (think, Wisconsin and Ohio). If this were to happen we would fall short of fulfilling one of the movement’s more glorious struggles: “Equal pay for Equal Work.”
Put sadly and simply we would be giving up on ourselves, our power to make our lives better as a potential progressive society and if, indeed, we were to let the movement die we’d better be ready to revive that old spiritual: “Nobody knows de trouble I’ve seen” – a song first sung by people, slaves, who, of course, had no protections in their workplace.
Truly nobody knows the trouble we’ll see if we aren’t vigilant in protecting our rights as workers which are closely attached, in essence, to our hopes and dreams. We need to think critically, my friends, and take a long hard look at our history and come to realize that all that is of lasting value on our jobs was given to us by ourselves: the Labor Movement. We the People have got to stand together, more united than ever before, and keep it alive.
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