Unions are misunderstood, may be our last chance

Len Harding

Len Harding
By Len Harding

Now that we’ve survived the smarmy tip-o-the-hat to working people, we can talk about what labor is all about.

Most of what passes for information about unions in Clermont County is really just polemical off-gassing by hacks in the pay of one-per-centers. Hacks’ collective goal is not to save us from unions, but to save themselves from the effects of unionism. Why? They’re paid to misunderstand and misconstrue unions. For the rest of us it is a matter of preconceived negative impressions trumping empirical observations; i.e.: why would you trust your lying eyes over the words of your betters?

Unions are feared by corporations because they put bodies into campaigns and voting booths . . . for now. Economically and socially, unions are a reservoir of skill and know-how; and they are a bastion of solidarity for working people. When they can function without interference, unions also stick up for people who are not well represented.

As we evolve as an economy, it’s clear that big business is way out in front, and the owners of big business are even more out in front. In fact they own the “front” and only rent small sub-standard parcels to the rest of us. Are they evil, no, they’re greedy – we all are. They just have the ability to exercise their greed, and we are lessening the legal restraints to curb them.

Let’s not kid ourselves, the system we are creating has been in place before, it’s called feudalism. Feudalism privatized all governance, and all wealth belongs to the upper class. The last time feudal rules prevailed, it took 1,700 years for the ruling class to relinquish its stranglehold on the rest of society – and only then with pressure from working people. We seem to be voting away our rights and economic status to keep darker-skinned peoples from cutting in line. This is senseless. We may be willing to give our rights away, but make no mistake the rich will not give them back once we realize what has happened. It doesn’t work that way.

How do we counter the wealthy? The rich got where they are by controlling production and distribution, and buying government influence. How do we work our way back to some form of equality with these people? We follow the union example and combine our efforts in the only means we still control, our working and purchasing selves.

Unions may, in fact, be our last best hope. Unions can and probably should take over pensions from corporations since the corporations seem to either underfund or loot their pension funds (did you know that there is almost no penalty for a corporation destroying its pension fund? When a private firm cannot keep its pension promises, the pension is taken over by the US government and we, the taxpayers, pay pensioners, not their employers; talk about rigging the rules!).

If the unions were in charge of pensions, you can bet that companies would be on a pay-as-you-go plan. Only the post office works its pension this way today; which is why it has so many problems. Conservatives have always disliked the post office and required it to stay current with pension obligations when it went semi-private (Congress still sets postal rates, etc).

Do what they do in Germany, have unions on the boards of directors. They have had this structure since the 1950s, and few would say the Germans cannot build cars, do chemistry, engineering or run trains. In the US, the primary goal of the corporation is to enrich stockholders; in Germany the primary goal is to make sure all participants in the corporate venture get a fair shake. These are legal mandates in both countries.

Congress as currently constituted would never go for a German system, but American unions could install a de facto simulacrum through collective bargaining – and thus put some rules around the unbelievably selfish and destructive behavior of Wall Street and large corporations. Remember: A Thousand Years.

Len Harding is a retired consultant, technical writer and historian. He lives in Clermont County.