The letter to the editor printed Wednesday, June 6 titled “Strong Unions mean strong middle class” is just plain wrong.
Strong unions do not mean a strong middle class. Unions were formed at a time when workers had very little voice in working conditions of their place of employment. Examples of that were the packing-house workers, railway workers and coal miners. Bargaining collectively, including withholding labor (strikes) and sit-ins such as the famous General Motors episode, improved working conditions immensely. Those common-sense changes have now become ingrained in both the legal code and our national experience.
But it was the actions of individuals acting together, not unions as such, which brought about the changes. In the early 1900s there were a half-dozen or more rail unions formed by differing groups of workers such as the section gangs, firemen, engineers, brakemen, telegraphers, etc. Together they established the first Federal pension system via the national railway act. Over the course of time, changes in technology outran the quickly irrelevant railway work rules, such as the 100 mile crew change limit, forced on the railroads by incompetent union leadership. Unions having become useless to the members were merged or abandoned.
Likewise, the United Packing House Workers, of which I became a member in 1957, were a tool for the workers to improve working conditions in what had been a vile workplace. When the interests of the union leaders overshadowed the members, this union also withered and was merged into an unrecognizable form today. The most notorious of the deterioration of union leadership was probably in the central states teamsters. The criminal corruption and looting of the workers pension fund was of a scale theretofore unimaginable.
So the fact of the matter is that unions are formed and work best when they provide a voice for the members, not just for the sake of having a union and not for the benefit of the “leaders”.
It is certainly worth noting that over half of all U.S. union members are government employees. The leaders of these employee unions are responsible in large measure for the tremendous taxpayer burden to support some truly outrageous benefits for those same leaders.
I am against the excessive power that these government employee union leaders represent and I am proud to know that I join a long line of others, including George Meany and Franklin Delano Roosevelt in so doing.
Meet and Confer, yes. Dictate, no.
Jack A. Burris