This is a special cross post from the We The People blog by Howie Barte. Read more about Howie at the bottom.
It is a safe bet that no one alive in the USA today that can remember a time when company bosses forced workers to toil for up to 18 hours a day, 7 days a week, with no time off other than for a debilitating work accident, or worse. Today’s 8-hour day/40 hour standard workweek was not granted out of kindness by the industrialists and corporations making enormous profits off disposable workers. It was hard-fought and won by labor unions in this country and in every other industrialized capitalist-oriented country on Earth.
Likewise, no one alive will remember when unsafe, stifling sweat shops that employed children under inhumane conditions were the norm. But those, too, were eliminated because unions forced them out of existence through job actions as well as political actions.
The US mining industry lagged behind these gains for many years. Working conditions in the mines as recently as 50 years ago were inhumanly unsafe and unhealthful. The mining company fat cat industrialist/capitalists realized that it was far cheaper to replace a sick or dead miner with a newly hired miner than to upgrade the mines’ working conditions and safety equipment. Unions such as the United Mine Workers of America (UMW orUMWA) forced changes to working conditions and pushed for passage of laws mandating minimum safety requirements for mining operations.
All of the above events have something in common: They were possible because of the collective actions taken by workers who were organized into unions. Without unions, the abominable working conditions described above would most likely still be the norm. And every worker who benefited fairly shared in the costs of these achievements.
The republican party (GOP) was once the party of Abraham Lincoln, who fought the US Civil War and ultimately ended slavery in the USA. Slavery is, after all, just another way for industrialist/capitalist fat-cats to enjoy cheap labor, without regard to human suffering or even basic human rights. The end of overt slavery gave rise to covert slavery, where workers were indebted to through such clever inventions as the company store and thus enslaved not by a whip but by basic economics. Slowly and painfully, workers organized into unions, and laws were passed guaranteeing workers a minimum wage by which they could buy food, clothing and shelter.
The unions incurred huge expenses in challenging the industrial/capitalist fat cats to achieve these necessary improvements in wages and working conditions. Company bosses needed a way to fight back, so they formed a “union” of sorts of their own, the industrial/capitalist fat cats political campaign war chest, so to speak. The republican party was wooed and enticed by obscene and bottomless barrels of money. Unions responded by backing democrats. As a result, republicans wanted to get unions out of the political balance as much as the industrial/capitalist fat cats did. The perfect storm against organized labor was forming.
Enter the “right-to-work” laws, which mandate that although unions must represent all covered workers in grievances and share among all workers any and all gains in working conditions and/or wages won by the union, while union members pay their dues to finance these services, the non-union-member workers in the same company in “right-to-work” states get these gains for free. They don’t pay a single dime towards the expenses incurred for these services. They free-load on the backs of union members.
Right-to-work” laws truly have only one single purpose: To reduce income to unions by preventing them from charging non-union workers any fees for services the non-members still benefit from. By reducing the union’s income, they reduce its negotiating power, its financial (and thus political) resources, and its attractiveness to new workers.
Starting in 1943, Florida passed the first “right-to-work” laws, barring mandatory fees/union dues for union services for non-union members. And since the GOP won back the US House of Representatives, Indiana passed its own right-to work law. There are now 23 states with these union-busting laws on the books.
Over the past week, the GOP-controlled Michigan state legislature passed two such laws in record time. They were signed into law within hours by Michigan’s GOP governor Rick Synder. The republicans claim that these laws free workers and encourage job creation, but this is misleading at best. They only free workers from strong union protection of their hard-earned wages, working conditions and job security. And most new businesses pay much less than the union shops. But the real hit is leveled against union resources that help elect democrats.
Dwight David Eisenhower, 34th president of the USA, hero of World War 2 and a (now extinct) moderate republican, warned in his farewell speech in 1961, “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex..”
It is a warning largely ignored by today’s Tea-Party-infected, ultra-right,Karl Rove brainwashed GOP.
Eisenhower and Jimmy Hoffa must be holding each other as they turn over in their graves.
Until December 6th, 2006, Howie was a liberal-centrist radio talk show host in Providence, Rhode Island. In the Fall of 2006, corporate/political forces decided that the free speech provisions of the US Constitution didn’t really mean all that much, and they decided to silence all but the most ultra-conservative voices on talk radio in Rhode Island. Both Howie, who had been on the air for fifteen months, and his close friend and mentor, ex-RI State Attorney General Arlene Violet, who had hosted the talk show following Howie’s for seventeen years, were summarily fired. Arlene received a 30-day advance “gag-order” notice required by her contract, but Howie’s advance notice consisted of “Nice show today, Howie! Now leave immediately and don’t come back.”
Before that, Howie was an air traffic controller for 33 1/2 years, most of it spent at T.F. Green Airport (PVD) in Providence, Rhode Island. During that time, he was a co-founder of NATCA, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, which is the federal union that represents the nation’s air traffic control workforce, as well as several other federal professions. He served the first regional vice president of the NATCA New England Region, and also served as local president at PVD for fourteen years and alternate regional vice-president for 11 years. He retired from federal service in 2005.
After retirement, he was asked to be a radio talk show host in the local Providence, RI market. As stated above, he served in that capacity for fifteen months, after which the station he worked for decided to shift to the ultra extreme right, and save salary money in the process. Howie and his mentor, Arlene Violet were shown the door, leaving only cost-free syndicated ultra-extreme right national programs and a single right-wing local host.
Howie was born in New York City, and from the age of almost seven, has lived in Spain, Holland, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico, when he graduated college and originally was an air-taxi pilot before becoming an air traffic controller in the FAA. He also spent four years in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam conflict.
Howie is married with two grown daughters. He is a Harley Davidson rider (see photos on www.howiebarte.com) and loves Sushi and Sashimi. He self-describes as a liberal-centrist with libertarian tendencies, particularly when it comes to our legislators making laws that supposedly protect us from ourselves. He is willing to pay his fair share of taxes, but believes that corruption and inefficiency in government should be financed solely by the jerks that pass these laws and skim off the top (or even the bottom).