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Continued Stories of the Death of American Unions

August 31st, 2005

I’m pro-labor. That’s easy for me to say because I’m not ever going to actually be a laborer. It’s not that I dislike the work… some of the most enjoyable jobs I’ve ever had involved lots of physical labor. But these days I have a degree (with one more coming down the pipe) and a whole host of skills that put me into a class where I better serve society by performing professional tasks like programming, lawyering, or policy work. But I’m pro-labor.

I can’t really describe why I’m pro-labor. Many of my friends, strong Democrats who will one day run for office and be rather successful at it, are not really pro-labor… but may come around once they realize it’s a vote they can’t do without. But I have no illusions about running for office (although more and more of my friends do), so my support comes from somewhere else. Maybe it’s may old “radical roots” and beliefs shared with my Aunt. Maybe it something I read one day. I don’t really know. What I do know is that I’m a dying breed among my generation.

The decline of labor is something of a fascination for me. I understand why capital would want to see them fall, or why Republicans are anything but supportive. I even understand why it is hard to organize the tech-heavy industries (self-reliance is one of the corner stones of being a geek). But I can’t really grasp why so many laborers are opposed to unions. Which is why I’m so surprised when I find someone who is opposed to unions, and when I do, I think I plan to write a few words about it.

Our first tale is from my shuttle ride to Seatac Airport on the way to Washington, D.C. As the shuttle dropped off a couple at the Northwestern Airlines curb, the driver commented how the couple was off to get married. I responded that crossing a picketline is no way to get a marriage started (for background, the NWA mechanics went a strike this past week). The driver, however, was not a big fan of the union and went on to blame the collapse of many airlines on the unions and their unreasonable demands. Apparently Shuttle Express once tried to unionize, but didn’t see the process through. In the words of the driver, he didn’t like unions because they believe “you’re either with ‘em, or against ‘em.” Maybe so, I told him, but that mentality has been passed down over the generations because in the past those who were “with unions” were shot by those “against ‘em.” There wasn’t a lot of middle ground in those days. Suffice to say, he was yet another perfect laborer refusing the benefits of unionization not because it wasn’t good for him economically, but because it didn’t set with his personal politics.

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