I admit, I’m over my head, in so many ways, in so many areas. For example, Bob Morris (our blogging colleague) has written about, and obviously “gets,” these books based on brain research – I’m just pretty baffled. Maybe not enough of a science background; maybe just a general failure of intellect.
But, at the risk of violating my own policy about not getting into politically charged issues on this blog, let me share a couple of other “I don’t understand” issues that are in the news right now – and bothering me.
Item #1 – why are there so many who are so anti-union?
There is little doubt about this reality – there are a lot of people who are so very anti-union. But do they simply not know the past, or do they forget the past?
Because of unions, we have limits on how many hours companies can require people to work; we have paid time off; we have work safety. We have… the list really is quite long.
Does anyone remember the praise we lavished on Chesley Sullenberger after the miracle on the Hudson, when he, and a crew (as he always reminded everybody) of people, just doing their jobs, saved the lives of a plane-load of people? What does this have to do with unions, you ask? Sully was active in the Air Line Pilots Association (yes, that is the pilot’s union); he was the Air Line Pilots Association safety chairman, championing safety causes, concerned about flight hours, especially the need for proper sleep, for pilots. Unions care about safety and work conditions – which matter to everybody. I think his time in his work with his union helped make him the right pilot for the crisis that he faced.
I write this as we remember the anniversary of the event that propelled the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union to its days of greatest effectiveness. The cause: The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911. Here’s some info (from the Huffington Post – note the paragraph from Women’s Wear Daily, from 1911, in its coverage of the event):
Triangle Shirtwaist Fire: A Look Back
March 25, 2011 marks the 100-year anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, which claimed the lives of 146 garment workers, mainly Jewish and Italian immigrant women, in New York City. The disaster eventually led to the establishment of better working standards and safety regulations.
Women’s Wear Daily sent over its coverage of the 1911 event. Some excerpts from the fashion newspaper’s page one story:
The lesson for the sewing trades to learn from the tragic fire at Washington place, New York, the terrible loss of life, seems to lie in the neccessity of more discipline and less selfishness which is concealed under the guise of personal rights. We are individualists in this country, and yet there comes a time in every industry when the individual should consider and should be made to consider the rights of a community.
This catastrophe will bring vividly to mind and will create the opportunity to inaugurate a fire drill and other protective measures in places where many people are employed. This would not alone guard against the repetition of so terrible a holocaust but would mean the starting of better discipline in many shops in the sewing trades.
Life today in the United States is lived at a tremendous pace. So many people are thrown into very close contact with others so that the slightest mistake by one may injuriously affect many.
Yes, I know that unions have at times “over-reached,” but do we really believe that companies, if left to their own, would treat workers well, and build a fair and safe workplace? Do we really? Sure, some would – but what about those which would not? Do you think some companies might lock a group of young women into a room, lock the exits, and make them work in conditions unfit for human beings, with no escape, even in the midst of a fire? Should there be any groups advocating for such workers? Put me on the side that says yes!
Everyone of us has benefitted from the work of unions. We should honor that, acknowledge that, remember that.
Item #2 – why are there so many companies who move “overseas” to avoid the tax rates in the United States? (General Electric is one of many — paid no taxes in the US last year).
This was the focus of a major segment last night on 60 Minutes. It was an enlightening segment. Only the CEO of Cisco agreed to appear on camera, and his case was clear. He made the following points (all from my memory of the interview; my paraphrase):
The United States, after Japan’s lowered rate goes into effect, will have the highest corporate tax rate in the world. Companies have a responsibility to its shareholders, so they would be irresponsible to pay this high tax rate if they can move operations overseas (in some cases, just an “office/headquarters, with few people) and pay a much lower rate, saving billions of dollars for their shareholders.
But…but… how can they claim that we have the greatest nation on earth and not support the needs of that great nation? Do they not realize that we have national expenses that far outstrip these other nations? Consider the military budget: the American military, that keeps the sea lanes open and thus the oil moving across the oceans into our gas tanks, is a very expensive “perk” for these companies. So, it should not surprise anyone that our taxes are higher. And if every company moves away, to countries without such a military, to pay a lower tax rate – then what? Do these companies think that the powerful navy of the Cayman Islands, or Switzerland, will keep the sea lanes open for their international business concerns?
So, yes, there are responsibilities to our shareholders – but what about the larger issues, our larger “responsibilities?”
By the way, in my opinion, this was the failure in this wonderful 60 Minutes Segment – this question was not asked at all.
So – I don’t get it. I, for one, am glad we have unions. And I, for one, am glad that we have the largest military in the world – it is a big world, and in this global economy, we need our strength – the strength of our companies, the strength of our workers, the strength of our unions, the strength of our military.
These are just two issues that concern me at the moment.
“There is no greater calling than to serve your fellow men. There is no greater contribution than to help the weak. There is no greater satisfaction than to have done it well.”
Walter Reuther, Union Leader
He was pummeled by “thugs” hired by Ford in 1937. (“The union organizers were badly beaten and thrown down thirty-nine steps off an overpass. But a photographer from the Detroit News caught it all, and his photos helped convince courts that Ford was violating workers’ rights.” – from Defining a Nation, edited by David Halberstam).
But he worked tirelessly, and stood shoulder to shoulder with Dr. King and the other organizers at the March on Washington. In case you don’t know, or don’t remember, the full name was: The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Here’s an excerpt from WALTER REUTHER: Working-Class Hero by Irving Bluestone, retired U.A.W. vice president, professor of labor studies at Wayne State University – Time Magazine, December 7, 1998:
For Reuther, unionism was not confined simply to improving life at the workplace. He viewed the role of the union as a social movement aimed at uplifting the community within the guarantees of democratic values. After his untimely death, with May, in a plane crash in 1970, waves of downsizing devastated cities and created problems for labor that still exist today. You can just imagine him wading into the fight against wanton job destruction, done for the sake of propping up corporate balance sheets.
One of his favorite slogans was “Progress with the Community–Not at the Expense of the Community.” What is unmistakably clear is that Reuther, in his lifetime, fulfilled his own philosophy of human endeavor.
A comment: have unions at times overreached? Yes, of course. When one asks that question, do you think it would be ok to also ask: have companies ever failed to adequately treat their workers with justice and dignity? Also, a yes…
This is a tough time for the American worker. Walter Reuther was a man who simply fought for the rights and dignity of the American worker. Not a bad life mission.