long leftist labor lecture

There was a thread recently about “Would you cross a picket line?”. The answer was a pretty resounding “Yes”. People argued that unions were uneccesary in today’s oh-so-wonderful labor market. They said that it was the workers’ fault for holding their jobs. They said their need to buy bread without driving out of the way was more important than any need a worker might have. Some even said they go out of their way to buy boycotted products and break picket lines.

I’m shocked. To the point of being sick to my stomach.

How can you honestly believe that a poverty is always the result of being a bad person? How can you believe the children of these “bad people” deserve to live in poverty while surrounded by a land of plenty? How can you believe there are no classes in America, when you can step into any restraunt and see smiling white faces serve you, and not-so-smiling brown ones bussing the tables and washing the dishes? How can you believe that “making it” is a matter of pure self-will when our educational opppertinities are based almost soley on class?

Do you just not know how bad it is? People working in low-wage jobs do not live lives where they sit and browse the SDMB all day till their boss gives them something to do. They work hard- often harder than the people who lord over them. They live with relatives, in garages, in vans, often with their children. They eat rice and ramen and whatever they can get out of a food basket if they have a kitchen. If not, they try to make it on fast food and coffee. Things like doing the laundry are nearly insurmountable obsticles. Keep in mind, these are real people, not cartoon charcters. They have hopes and dreams and fall in love just like you and I. You likely talk to them every day. And this is not the poorest of the poor. This is what is become one of our biggest labor classes- low wage service work.

Sure, they don’t work a ten hour day anymore. That is because hiring full time workers is passe- then you have to give them regular schedules and might have to cough up benefits. Instead, you hire them for a few shifts a week and don’t worry about a thing. Meanwhile they work two or three jobs and never know from one week to another if they will get enough hours to fill their (and their kids’) basic needs.

Of course they can quit. Quitting seems encouraged, in fact. If they quit, the only place that will hire them is another equally crappy job. This garentees and endlessly recycled and ever disposable (at-will labor ensure this) labor force that is given minimal training and worked until they quit. The turnover at these places (places you shop at every day) is a matter of a couple months. It’s a beautiful system that thrives off pure human sweat and then throws them away/

But they don’t need unions. Businesses can organize all they want. Businesses are allowed to look out for their profits. They can hire or not hire as they see fit to make a profit. But if the workers want the same abilities- to sell their labor as they see fit, and to use the fact that they are very essentle to command a reasonable wage- they are suddenly evil? Yes, unions are power hungry and corrupt. They are not the Mary Sunshine Benevolent Society. They are providing a counterbalance to the corruption, cronyism and pure force excerpted by businesses. When MBAs take their business ethics class, they are learning about maintaining good accounting practicies, not being ethical towards their workers. Acting benevolently towards ones employees is not a part of any business practice except when needed to keep profitability. And if this is the way the world is gonna work than the workers are going to have to work that way, too. It’s ugly, but if the free market is so good, why all the union busting?

And dammit, I support them. Without labor- even cheap service labor- nothing would work. We’d stop complaining about bad customer service (of course, a worker is expected to do his or her job well out of duty and provide good customer service even if they are not at risk of being fired because that is what a good work ethic is about, but a company is not required to treat them well except out of profit because that is what good business ethics are about) because there would be no service.

And that doesn’t even begin to address that everything that is ugly in America gets sent overseas. We would never stand for a sweatshop, of course. We just buy our stuff from other people’s sweatshops. And we tell ourselves “They like working for a fifty cents an hour, they are happy to have a twelve hour workday, they enjoy the indentured servitiude that the labor broker situation has created”, but we would never stand for it on our own soil. We’d never be okay with our sisters or our mothers doing it. Even though our wealth is built on these people’s backs, we don’t have to take an once of blame. We get the moral highground and we get all our stuff. And people suffer and die (for example, but dipping their hands in solder as part of the manufacturing process and getting cancer. The girls work in the factories to pay for college tuition, and then die in their third year) because of it. Of coures this has nothing to do with us! This is America! Our workers have it great!

And nobody cares. Nobody cares that their economic actions have consequences that can kill people by the dozen.

The free market, we say, will take care of that.

The free market, it seems, has “taken care” of a few too many people for my taste. I’m not asking you to change things. It all seems a bit insurmountable, and if you don’t believe that human suffering should be avoided on a worldwide scale, I guess that is your think.

But you don’t have to be such a fucking asshole about it. This whole “I got mine” attitude makes me sick. Do people really believe this, or is some kind of cognitive dissonance thing?

I have so much more to say, but it’s late and this is long. Time to nurse my stomach ache and try to figure out where I can begin to regain my faith in humanity.

People would rather have cheap prices from register monkeys that treat them like crap in retaliation for being treated like crap and getting paid like crap.

Some of that is due to pure greed, laziness, idiocy, and a few bad unions that have ruined reputations of the good ones. My union sucks, it is essentially powerless because the UC schools know us lab researchers will not strike, because we’d ruin our experiments. Also, they asked for some gigantic improbable raise at the last labor talks. UC stopped negotiations right there, giving us no raise for a year.

As a bright spot, suddenly we are getting the original raises we were offered before our union ruined it, and backpay for the raise for the past year. That wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t have a union. And the pay increase is higher than the cost of dues per month.

and who, precisely, do you contend adopted your silly little strawmen as their personal positions in that economic debate?

Just mark this “lecture” down as Exhibit 347 in the “Lefties Have No Concept of Reality” file.

jesus. I’m a liberal, but you seem to have gone around the bend on this one, even sven.

Laborers should have the right to unionize. Unionized laborers should not have government-protected exclusive control over the labor market.

And what about the corruption, cronyism and pure force excerpted (sic) by union leaders?

I’d like to see some numbers regarding the percentage of union members who make wages below the poverty level. And then contrast that with union members who earn a wage above the median income level.

Perhaps you should move Sven. The US is a rather corporate driven country (and yes, I realize there are other countries that are more so) and I’m not sure your outrage is going to do much to change that.

If you want to live in country with a more socialist bent, you should seriously consider moving, 'cus I don’t see the US going that way any time soon.

FWIW, I’m speaking as a person who tends to agree with you (although your rant did seem somewhat over the top and unfocused - all you needed was a starving UNICEF baby to complete the tableau), and also lives in a more socialist country.

One of my American co-workers and his wife were quite surprised, when they moved here, at the much smaller differences between the rich and poor. They were from Miami if that means anything to anyone. (My forays into the US have pretty much been focused on the touristy bits.)

If one doesn’t like their job, they can quit. If enough people quit, employers will have to change their “evil” ways to have employees. It’s very simple.

Got a cite for this little gem? I’ll go to the mat with you on this one if you feel you’re up to it.

Long story short: you’re absolutely full of shit (on this and many other points in your OP).

Go out and learn how economics really work instead of extrapolating your little short-term job-finding problems into a societal problem caused by the “eeeeeeeeeeevil corporations.”

That’s a very nice philosophy that doesn’t work in the real world with real economies.

Also, people do quit these jobs, retail turnover is like, what, 200%? it’s not like it helps, service just gets crappier, because the stores have crappy employees as part of their strategy.

I applaud you, Even Sven; when I read the comment from one of our members that there is “nothing so noble as crossing a picket line,” I was stunned. I didn’t bellieve that such know-nothingism still lingered in our America.

Labor Unions are old-fashioned…like the Civil Rights Act, or the Anti-Trust Laws, or even the Child Labor Laws. Old-fashioned…and still very, very necessary.

Crossing a picket line is as immoral – fully legal, but immoral – as buying clothes made by sweatshop labor.


If I may sum up: Without the checks of unions, companies would be even more evil. Without the check of being able to bring in alternate workers, etc., unions be even more evil. I posit that people’s opinion on this issue are more decided by experience with one bit of evil over another than actual economic cites.

Count me in the camp of thse who evaluate strikes based on the specifics of each situation.

Sorry, but I have a hard time feeling sorry for unskilled workers who are making $20 an hour with full benefits, and are merely being asked to kick in a small portion of the cost of those benefits. I didn’t make that until I’d been in the full-time workforce for over 10 years, and I have a bachelor’s and a master’s, a highly skilled professional job, and live in a major metro area. And my company didn’t subsidize dependents’ insurance costs until a few months ago. At all. If you’re not happy with cashier wages, then go develop some actual skills. There are zillions of ways to do that, and help available, both from the government and from thousands of nonprofits. Millions of people of modest means manage to get education and training to better themselves every year in this country. IIRC, you are a perfect example of that.

Yes, unions have done good things for American workers. Some unions have been corrupt, and have done crappy things to American workers. At a former job (which, luckily, was open shop), we had a shop steward who didn’t do squat. But I think the $18/hour cashiers have quite some chutzpah to go on strike, and I would not go an inch out of my way to avoid crossing that particular picket line.

even sven, nobody is saying the strikers are evil human beings who deserve to starve. They do, however, have IMHO very unrealistic expectations.

There are however some things going on that make you wonder.

As some of you know, I live in a quiet, even stogy, little country town balanced on the edge of the prairie as it breaks down to the Mississippi. For years the movers and shakers (such as they are) have been trying to get light industry in here because, even with the government subsidies some of you keep belly aching about, small agriculture of the dairy, pigs, corn and beans variety will not keep a family decently.

We have gotten some plants—auto parts, industrial strapping equipment, air exchangers and soft-sided luggage for a widely regarded company from Wisconsin that was recently taken over by a big mail order and second class department store conglomerate. Our draw has been cheap non-union labor in a “right to work” state and a surplus population. The luggage plant employed some 200 people, mostly farm wives who spent their day hunched over industrial sewing machines, not looking up or talking and limited to a five minute potty break twice a day. Hard, drudge work for pay that would get no applicants in a metropolitan center.

Now it has been announced that the plant is closing. Two-hundred families that have depended on Mama’s second cash income to keep the farm going and keep the kids in decent clothing are looking at hard times. There is talk that the distribution center in Wisconsin is closing up too. Real hard times over there. I can’t but think that a strong union might have prevented this. I can’t help but think that when we advertised our selves as a non-union town to get these plants we in effect hung out a sign that said “just ask and we’ll bend over.”

So what happens to the 200 jobs that disappear when the plant closes? They’re going to Mexico. Labor is cheaper in Mexico. There is no social security contribution in Mexico. There is no fringe benefit medical insurance in Mexico. There is no workers compensation in Mexico. There is free trade with Mexico. The luggage will be the same price and the profit margins will be bigger. Two-hundred families in a place you never heard of will be screwed. Two-hundred families, mostly of Northern European decent who have been working this land, paying their taxes, sending their sons to this nation’s various wars and generally being good hardworking, God fearing citizens for 150 years have been told to go screw themselves.

Need a labor union? Nah! Labor unions are a relic of the past. Bend over.

At one of the campuses where I teach (can’t make a living at just one when you’re part-time), we organized a union for the part-time faculty a few years back, since the full timers didn’t want us in theirs and the classified staff have a different group altogether. When we finally settled our first contract, here’s what we got:

A grievance procedure.
A partial reimbursement (from a state fund; costs the college nothing) that we can put towards buying our own medical insurance.
Pay for office hours (also from a state fund).
Equity money for part-timers (state funded again).
A raise.
Working conditions committee.
Better evaluation procedures.
Better assignment and scheduling procedure.
A voluntary pool for catastrophic leave donation.
And more.

It’s a weak contract in some ways, and they refused to consider anything that smacked of seniority/rehire rights no matter how long you’ve been there or how well you’ve performed. But here’s what we would have had without it:

Absolutely none of the above–just as it had always been. The dinosaurs who run this particular campus wanted things to remain exactly the same, for all time.

If anybody’s wondering why people like me (who have been at this for years) aren’t full-time, it should be obvious: ..$. We’re a cheap pool of labor, overall.

Yeah, I’m a long lefty labor lecturer, an agitator, and a professor who will not apologize for wanting to be treated like a professional.

Eh, the local grad student union wouldn’t be quiet so bloody obnoxious if they weren’t spouting jungle freedom fighter “kill the evil running dog Fascist oppressors” rhetoric every time they failed to get what they wanted. Nitwits like that deserve all the scorn one can heap upon their pointy but empty little heads.

Sometimes, even, an idiot is just an idiot. Even if he belongs to a union.

Count me as another in with Eva Luna. I’m not going to work up sympathy for people striking because pretty damn good conditions aren’t quite perfect. If people strike over a genuine complaint, I’ll certainly honor that strike. When people strike because they have to pay a small portion of their own health care, when I have no coverage at all, you better believe I have no sympathy for that.


The rest of your combination rant and strawman collection isn’t worth spending much energy on. To answer on its own, over-simplified level, unskilled labor isn’t worth very much on the open market. Unions can’t do anything about that except price workers out of their jobs. When that happens, companies move to Mexico, or overseas, and what was a crappy job becomes no job.

The law of supply and demand cannot be revoked, even by unions.

I am sorry you can’t find work. I am not sorry for these grocery workers complaining that they have to contribute towards health care for their families.


A union going on strike does not mean that union is in the right. As far ad the grocery workers strike, I really don’t know.

Ya know, I thought I had no qualms about crossing a picket line. I certainly have no fear of it. But tonight, on my way to work, I avoided the grocery and stopped instead at a drug store for my soda supply.

I am at a loss to really explain why at the moment, even to myself.

Spavined, would those 200 families be better off if the plant never showed up in the first place? Or if the plant closed a few years ago because of high union wages/demands, instead of waiting until now?

Vivalostwages’ example is a good example of unions working for the benefit of the worker without being unnecessarily antagonistic with the company. The problem with unions is a tendency to keep pushing for more once the job is done. What is the purpose of senority rights except to force a company to keep someone on who they don’t want? What is the purpose of restrictive work rules except to force companies to go through your union to get something done, even if another way is easier/better?

Companies need flexibility to remain competitive, unions often fight against that for reasons that go far beyond basic worker benefits.

Honestly, you’re a cashier at a grocery store. This is almost the poster boy for an unskilled job. Most people can learn this job in about 1 week, yet the union wants these people treated like skilled professionals. They are not skilled professionals.