Feb 17, 2007

Grant will bring courageous labor struggle to life again

I wanted to congratulate a friend I have known since I was in elementary school, a loyal Democrat who has worked hard for Democratic candidates and a labor leader on receiving a grant from the Michigan Council of Humanities to mark the most violent labor strike in the City of Monroe’s history and a pivotal point in American labor history.

Bill Connor, the president of the Monroe/Lenawee AFL-CIO Central Labor Council, is also the curator of the Monroe County Labor History Museum, and he almost single-handedly raised the money and organized the museum located in the historic Phillip Murray Building in downtown Monroe that has long been a landmark site for local unions.

The grant the museum received on Friday will create a permanent display at the museum and a satellite exhibit at the River Raisin Battlefield Visitors Center marking the bitter and violent attempt by the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) to organize the Republic Steel plant in Monroe in 1935.

According the Monroe Evening News, during a bitter strike in 1937, workers and police clashed. Strikers were beaten and tear-gassed. Cars were overturned and dumped into the River Raisin. A deputized goon squad that included citizens and vigilantes chased and beat workers, injuring 11 people. Republic fielded a security force that joined forces with numerous citizens "deputized" as special police and issued billyclubs lathed in Loranger Square downtown.

This display will illustrate the rich labor history of my hometown, and organized labor’s role in creating the middle class and giving workers some basic human rights and dignity. These same labor unions are under attack today much like they were 70 years ago and beyond, but now the tactics are much more covert and subtle but no less evil.

One interesting thing about the article to me was one of the last paragraphs where it says even though the CIO failed to organize the plant in the face of the brutal attack, it survived and it learned. The CIO went on to organize the area's paper plant workers in the 1940s and made possible unions in other industries.

My grandfather worked and retired from one of those paper mills, located near where the Republic Steel plant was located that is now an ice-skating rink and a housing development.

My grandfather came up from a place called Tazewell, Tenn. to Monroe, where I believe at one time it seemed like half of Monroe's residents hailed from, to work in the plant. He told me stories of going to work before Consolidated Paper, Co. was organized and not knowing if he and his fellow workers would come home from work alive or with all of their fingers, toes or limbs. He was a loyal union Democrat his entire life.

He and my grandmother raised six children during the Great Depression, and when he died a few years ago in his 90’s he left behind a healthy estate. My grandmother never threw anything away, and every thing could be used more than once or for another purpose.

If you are ever in Monroe visit the museum at 41 W. Front St., and visit the exhibit called "The Nation's Eyes Are on Monroe: Second Conflict on the River Raisin" when it’s unveiled in early May to mark the 70th anniversary of the strike.


Red Or Dead said...

LABOR UNIONS' importance in the workplace has fallen steadily since 1950, when roughly a third of American workers were unionized. Today, that number is well below 10% in the private sector.

The Employee Free Choice Act, now before Congress, aims to reverse that trend by making it easier for unions to gain certification and stiffening penalties for interfering with a unionization drive. After all, supporters argue, without union representation, how can individual workers have the bargaining power needed to get their fair share of the economic pie?

But maybe unions aren't so crucial to worker well-being. When more than 90% of the private-sector labor force isn't unionized, why do 97% of us earn above the minimum wage? If our bargaining power is so pitiful, why don't greedy employers exploit us and drive wages down to the legal minimum?

Look at workers' share of the nation's income. In 1950, employee compensation was 53% of gross domestic income. In 2005, that number was 57%. Somehow, as unions' strength dwindled over the decades, employees' share actually grew. And it's a share of a dramatically larger pie, the result of the incredible economic boom of the last half a century.

The source of such economic growth is better-educated workers and technology that makes them even more productive. Those with more skills are more attractive to employers.
Not every American worker shares equally in prosperity. But skipping a secret-ballot vote — as the Employee Free Choice Act would — is an odd way to help the disadvantaged. The argument is that if workers can simply sign a card in support of the union, they'll avoid employer intimidation. But eliminating the ratifying vote replaces the threat of employer intimidation with the threat of union intimidation. That will probably increase union representation. But will it help workers?

Unions help those they represent by trying to raise wages above what they would otherwise be. To the extent they succeed, they reduce the demand for labor in unionized shops. That means more workers have to find employment in non-unionized shops, pushing down wages there. That's especially tough on workers with limited skills and education. The sad irony of unions is that they can only improve the lot of their members at the expense of other workers.

A better way to increase wages is to make workers more productive. That lifts everyone's standard of living.

Rather than trying to revitalize unions, we ought to be looking for ways to revitalize our moribund public education system. That is the road to true, long-term prosperity.

It’s funny how this legislation which makes the process by which labor is unionized less democratic is given innocuous names like the “Card Check Bill” or the “Employee Free Choice Act.” In reality, this legislation should be called the “Anti Intimidation-Free Balloting Process Act”, because that’s what it really is. It just gives unions a way to browbeat workers in joining up rather than letting workers make choices about unions without fear of retribution from the unions or their supporters.

At the same time they should add to this bill to include that every State be changed to a Right To Work State. Why should the American work force have their dues donated to Democratic causes they do not support? Instead the Unions should be pouring the dues back into worker training, that will benefit the labor force they are supposedly trying to help.

Communications guru said...

Well another late night rant from Mr. Communist that’s long on claims but short on attribution. You may be correct that union membership has fallen steadily since 1950, but I doubt it. But union’s importance has not fallen. It has increased. We need them more than ever, and that’s why there’s such as assault on them now and these great American companies are racing toward the bottom and choose to go to a Communist country where they will have an easier time killing, maiming and intimidating people there who try to form unions than they had in the ’30s and ‘40s here.

Pulitzer Prize-winning national columnist Ellen Goodman said less than 30 percent of the country's autoworkers that helped create the middle class in this country are unionized. Workers that dare try to unionize the auto parts suppliers and pay no better than the $10 an hour and few benefits are fired and harassed, and in one shop workers had to sue just to get paid for all the hours they worked.

I had not heard of the Employee Free Choice Act. Thank you for letting me know about it. I see it has bipartisan support, and it is something this country needs desperately.

Unions are more important now than they ever were, and it’s not just about wages. I agree that greedy employers are exploiting us and drive wages down to the legal minimum. They have the threat of off shoring to do it with the blessing, support and encouragement of the current rich guy in the White House.

I have no idea where you got your info on workers salaries growing because you provide no attribution. I don’t believe it. According to Forbes magazine at http://www.forbes.com/2005/04/20/05ceoland.html. CEO compensation has increased obscenely, so how can the “pie be bigger?” In 1965 the average CEO was earning 24 times what the average worker was making. But in 2005, the average CEO was making 262 times what the average worker is making. The heads of America's 500 biggest companies received an aggregate 54 percent pay raise in 2003. You think we don’t need unions? Please.

“But eliminating the ratifying vote replaces the threat of employer intimidation with the threat of union intimidation.” Are you serious? You need to read about the Flint sit-down strike or the Republic Steel strike in Monroe. Employers kill and maim workers trying to form unions. They also fire them. What can a union do? How they harass workers voting against their own interests? I know you are anti-union, anti-worker and anti-middle class but your bias is clouding your common sense.

“A better way to increase wages is to make workers more productive. That lifts everyone's standard of living.” You cannot really believe that those increased profits that the allegedly more productive workers create is going to be passed on to the workers? It goes to fund that 56 percent annual raise the CEOs get.

Unions are not just about wages. It’s about better benefits, a safe working environment, unfair labor practices and better training for the workers to name just a few.

I agree with you that the legislation should called the “Anti Intimidation-Free Balloting Process Act” because that’s what it does. The only browbeating is by non-union employers. For proof I suggest you make a visit to the Michigan Historical Museum in Lansing or the Monroe County Labor History Museum.

Every state is a right to work state. Why should the American work force have their dues donated to Democratic causes they do not support? Because they support workers and the middle class. And union dues are poured back into worker training.