Unions for Beginners, David Cogswell, 2012, ISBN 9781934389775 |
The forty-hour work week, pensions and safe working conditions became part of the American employment landscape because employers felt that it was the proper thing to do, right? No, those things came into existence because of strikes and agitation by labor unions.
Why are unions supposedly at the root of America's financial problems, despite the huge drop in numbers of unionized workers over the past half century? The American corporate class (the 1 percent) wants nothing to stand in the way of their pursuit of profit. Employee wages are seen as an expense, which must be reduced as much as possible, in order to push up the stock price. A person might think that societies like Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia are the world leaders (for lack of a better term) in using propaganda on their own citizens. By far, the world leader is the United States. People are taught to equate free market capitalism with everything that is good in America. Any opposition to corporate power, like unions, is supposed to equal tyranny, oppression and communism.
Unions came into existence because of a fundamental bit of human nature. If people get together in a group, they can accomplish things that a single person can not accomplish. People have gone on strike for better working conditions since the early days of America. This book looks at some of the famous events in union history. In 1835, children in Patterson, New Jersey's silk mills went on strike for an 11-hour day and a six-day work week. There's Chicago Haymarket Incident (or Riot, or Massacre) in 1886. There's the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, and the Homestead Strike of 1892. In the 20th century, there is 1913's Ludlow Massacre. More recently, the book explores the Conservative Resurgence of the 1980s, and the attacks against unions by people from Ronald Reagan to Scott Walker. Union leaders are only human, so, throughout American history, they can be just as evil and corrupt as the rest of society.
This is a partisan book; it is probably not possible to write a totally non-partisan book about unions. This book is still recommended for everyone. It's recommended for those interested in the less well known parts of American history, it's recommended for union members who are unfamiliar with their history, and it's recommended for part of the explanation as to how America got into its present financial mess.
Paul Lappen is a freelance book reviewer whose blog, Dead Trees Review, emphasizes small press and self-published books.
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