Way back in the day, my grandfather was a union miner up in the Iron Range. He never graduated from high school, as was and is the case with many people living in poverty, but he was an intelligent guy.
He was smart enough to know many things, but the two things I want to highlight are these:
He was smart enough to value education and he was smart enough to value unions.
Poverty is a cruel thing to endure, and without education there is very little hope for emergence from poverty. As a man who labored – both underground in the mines and above ground in the terrible cold and wind of the open pit mines in Minnesota winters – he did not have the opportunities that I do as a highly educated and specialized worker. What he had was the protection of the group. The strength of many instead of one.
Without a union – a group – to protect him, he was discardable (a la The Jungle), unable to push for health care, vacation, sick time, regulated weeks, pay increases, safety measures, and any other number of compensations we work to receive. As a united front, employers were forced to contend with something much stronger and they were forced to negotiate.
My grandparents didn’t live a glamorous life, but they saw hope for their children’s futures and had the capacity to let them finish high school and move on to college. All public.
That publicly-funded education was as instrumental as the unions in the opportunity for upward mobility. As individuals, a working class family couldn’t have paid for four children to go to school. As a community, we do have that power. We can educate all children, and we can do better.
In a time in which Wall Street executives are receiving record bonuses and when the rich have been given tax cuts by Governor Walker in Wisconsin, the idea that it is teachers and social workers and public servants who are breaking the back of our economy is simply a con.
This is the time of divide and conquer. Of petty bickering over who gets which scraps. And this is the time when we decide whether or not we want to expand and sustain a permanent underclass in America or whether we are going to tell people like Walker and the Koch brothers, who are just an example of the type of people Walker listens to, ENOUGH.
I love unions. I love them because they laid the groundwork for my family to gain enough momentum to rise up. They gave my mother and her siblings a future, one that my cousins and I have benefited from beyond anything they could have imagined.
At the University, I know damned well that if AFSCME wasn’t there holding the floodgates shut, those of us who are non-union would be seeing skyrocketing health care increases and more rapidly decreasing benefits than we currently see. There is no such thing as trickle down, but there is trickle up. (Management sure as hell aren’t going to let the clerical workers get better benefits than they have.)
The solution to private sector woes is not to drag union workers down to the level you perceive yourself to be at, but to value yourselves and your work enough to band together and demand to be appropriately compensated for your labor. We are always hearing about the gross domestic product (GDP) going up, of productivity going up – but does that translate to your paycheck? As an individual, are you strong enough to fix the fact that it’s not?
Your employer is not your friend, it is your employer. You are only as strong as your individual or collective worth.
And none of us is as special as we may think we are. The group is always stronger than the individual.
I am proud to have family who have struck and fought for fair compensation.
I stand strongly with the unions. I stand for the middle class.