Opinion: Unions are not to blame for economic hardships



Bryan Staul

It seems popular today to attack labor unions. You name it – they have been blamed for it.

The recent financial struggles in the American automobile industry were blamed on United Auto Workers. The mass exodus of the U.S. manufacturing jobs to Mexico, China and India was also blamed on those silly workers. However, unions are a force for good in this country, and they are being made into a scapegoat for America’s economic woes.

Those who point the finger at unions for America’s economic decline over the past few decades do not realize that unions have become increasingly weaker since the 1980s when President Ronald Reagan began his war against unionized workers. When looking back to what many consider the golden age of organized labor, the 1940s to the 1960s, they would see the rise of the American middle class. In fact, according to former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, in 1955 a third of working Americans were unionized.

The unions didn’t cause a collapse of industry; on the contrary, they caused a boom, and prosperity was abundant throughout the country. Americans had fair wages and access to health benefits. Now that the unions have shrunk, the opponents of workers’ rights are on the move.

The most common stereotype I hear is that of the lazy union worker who sits around for most of the day and gets paid $20 an hour to push a broom. This is one of the biggest falsehoods out there. If anyone has ever visited a factory, they would see people working hard in very undesirable conditions.

Another false concept is the idea of the greedy union worker. However, in the case of the car companies, it was the union workers who made concessions to help keep the companies afloat.

We can also thank the labor union movement for several things we take for granted: the 40-hour workweek, safe working conditions and pensions. In the age of Wall Street getting more help than Main Street, united workers are the last bastions of Middle America. It is high time we stop the concepts of trickle-down economics and start to protect America’s most important assets: the working class that acts as the fuel of America’s economic engine.

In terms of wages, union workers do make a fair amount, but is it really a bad thing that we put more money in the hands of America’s consumers? It is also notable that unions played an integral role in the civil rights movement because of their calls for economic justice. In fact, Martin Luther King, Jr. was in Memphis the day he was killed to support a sanitation workers’ strike.

Lawmakers should reopen the opportunity for workers to organize instead of allowing some employers to continue practicing union busting. If America wants to stop the shrinking of the middle class, then we need to empower working Americans, and unions are the best tools to do so.

Bryan Staul is a sophomore political science major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].