Ten Reasons Protecting Unions Is a Life-and-Death Issue

May 23, 2011 | | Truthout |

7) Unions are one of the few institutional bulwarks against a corporate dictatorship over all of us: I mentioned their role in the ballot initiative and electoral process, but how are people organized in society? Into factories and electronics assembly shops and big-box stores. They wake up in the morning and - even with strong unions - much of their life is dominated by the company: what time to show up, what time to break (and do we get one?), how fast to work. Without labor unions, they live in terror, knowing that at virtually any time a supervisor can come up to them and fire them for any reason and they have little or no recourse. When I went to work in the GM Van Nuys plant in 1981, "old timers" used to tell me that GM wouldn't allow them to take bathroom breaks and they often had to hold it in for two hours while working on an assembly line. Finally, the UAW won "relief men and women," who could come to jobs and relieve workers for five minutes - a civilizing element of work won by the union. One hundred years ago, women in the Triangle Shirt Waist Factory had to work in a factory with permanently closed doors - and during a fire, 146 workers were burned or jumped to their death. Today, many workers exposed to toxic chemicals and in dangerous mining jobs, still risk their lives to go to work. Bob Herbert, formerly of The New York Times, said that the astronomical and immoral concentration of wealth is moving the US toward becoming a democracy in name only. Labor unions are among our best hopes for democracy.