Monday, September 3, 2012

They Came For The Unionists

Originally published in 03/09/11

A few weeks ago a unit in my apartment building was robbed. I noticed it when I went downstairs to the basement laundry room to do my laundry and found the basement window broken, and the door to my neighbor’s apartment kicked in. Fortunately, my neighbor was not home at the time of the incident. Naturally I contacted the police, and naturally they came, asked me questions, did their investigations, and file a report for my neighbor for his insurance agent. No one was hurt, and the police were as efficient as always in these matters. In these times, it should be noted that the policemen in Philadelphia are all Public Sector employees, and they belong to the Fraternal Order of Police, a Public Sector union.

It has snowed in some part of the country every week this winter so far. Let me ask you, were your streets cleared. Yes, I know it’s probably a toss-up in a lot of places, but you have to admit that even if it took a few days, eventually your street was cleared of snow. For that, you can thank your public sector unions. Here’s an easier one. Was your trashed picked up this week? Now I know you can answer ‘yes’ to that one, and again you have your public sector unions to thank. You can also thank them for paved streets, clean sidewalks, and up-kept parks. Did your kids learn anything in school today? Thank a public sector union. Did a fire get put out on your block? Thank a public sector union. Unions affect every aspect of our lives, whether we belong to them or not. From the clothes on our backs to the food we eat, all of it comes to you because of unions.

The car you drive, if it was made in America, was put together by union workers. If it was made outside of America, it was taken off a ship by union workers. The PC from which you’re reading this blog entry right now, the TV you probably have playing in the background, and the various complementary attachments to both (printer, DVR, Blu-Ray player, etc.) were all assembled by union workers. The people you see on the TV machine, everyone from the broadcasters and/or actors in front of the camera to the producers, writers, technicians, and the people who fetch the skinny-mocha-latte-whatevers are all union workers. The cups those lattes are in, as well as the ingredients, come to you all courtesy of union workers. Unions affect every aspect of our lives, whether we belong to them or not. From the clothes on our backs to the food we eat, all of it comes to you because of unions.

This is what these past few weeks in Wisconsin have been all about. The Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin today, just a few hours ago as I write this, have just passed a bill that will effectively end the ability of unions to be unions. The bill strips the rights of public sector unions to collectively bargain for their members. This bill was originally a part of a larger budget bill which additionally asked those unions to pay more for health care, give up benefits, even take pay cuts. All of it was ostensibly to close a $140m shortfall in the Wisconsin budget. Fourteen Democratic state senators fled the state in order to keep the full bill from coming to a vote by denying the senate its needed quorum. However, the GOP decided to separate the collective bargaining part from the rest of the budget bill since, despite what Republican Governor Scott Walker has been saying to this point, the union’s right to collectively bargain has no impact whatsoever on Wisconsin’s budget. Thus, they no longer needed a quorum. The remaining Republicans in the Senate voted 18-1 to pass the bill ending collective bargaining rights for public sector unions.

If you’re sitting on the other side of this screen thinking, “What does this have to do with me? I don’t belong to a union.” Well, do you have weekends off? Yeah? Thank collective bargaining. Do your kids work in sweatshops for pennies an hour? No? Thank collective bargaining. Is the place where you work safe? Are the working conditions comfortable? Yes? Then you can thank collective bargaining for all of those things. Unions’ ability bargain for all of the above for its members in the past is the reason why you as a non-union worker have those things now. As employers see how happy their unionized employees are that they don’t work 80 hour work-weeks, or aren’t working in hazardous conditions, they decide to pass those benefits to their non-union employees. The thing you need to understand is that the reverse is also true. In the 2010 mid-term elections 7 out of the top 10 big money donations came from conservative organizations, and were given to Republican candidates. The remaining three gave to Democrats, and were ALL unions.

What you’re seeing in Wisconsin is not new, nor is it the last salvo in the GOP’s battle for ultimate power. It’s only the latest. Over the past 2+ years, the GOP has aggressively, almost recklessly, done everything it can to destroy anyone or anything standing in its way. Blacks, Hispanics and other minorities, Women, Gays and Lesbians, Immigrants, Muslims and other non-Christian groups, Public Television and Radio, Students, College graduates, Community Organizations, and, yes, UNIONS. Any group that does not traditionally vote Republican is a target. If you’re thinking that the union fight in Wisconsin and elsewhere has nothing to do with you, let me offer this perspective by way of this famous poem by Martin Niemoller.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me -- and there was no one left to speak for me.

If you want someone to speak for you when they (the GOP) come, you need to speak up for your unions. Thank them for their tremendous service, and most of all, support them.