Labor Must Find A Voice Again


Before being hired by my current employer I had always believed that the various labor unions had been formed in order to create a conduit from the worker's pocket directly into some politician's or mob boss's bank account. I suppose that I had formed such a low opinion of organized labor simply by virtue of my family's dislike for them (although none had never been a member of one in their lives) as well as the media's constant depiction of organized labor as controlled only by criminals and Communists.

When my job became part of a closed union shop I felt as if a very important choice was being made for me rather than by me. (A closed shop is one in which one has to either be a dues paying member of the particular union representing the employees or has to pay an amount equal to the union dues to one of a few recognized charities as a requirement of employment but representation) Since the act had been mandated by the state's legislative body, my views on the matter were not polled.

The anger that I felt at being forced into the union was rather quickly dispelled, though, as I found very promptly that the management I worked under certainly had little or no interest in my health or safety or happiness on the job. Decisions were made that ran completely counter to existing federal and state laws as well as in direct opposition to the Memorandum of Understanding which stood as the agreement negotiated between the employer and the union for its members. Going to the existing local levels of supervision was an exercise in frustration and futility from the beginning simply because you were asking someone to admit their decision was wrong and asking them to change it, a petition that ranked up there with hoping that a Republican Governor would delay the execution of a convicted prisoner whose guilt was still in doubt. In fact, the situation was nearly always one where the manager already knew that the decision was either illegal or against the MOU agreement and the act of informing him that you knew that truth only hardened their refusal to acknowledge their mistake.

I learned that an employee's only hope was to bring a grievance against the decision through my union representative in hopes that a level of supervision above the miscreant's would force compliance of whatever law or agreement was in question. It soon became obvious that, as long as the grievance being filed was backed by fact, the question was usually conceded and the decision changed. Granted, often one had to fight the same battle over and over but eventually the higher level of supervision tired of dealing with it and forced the local manager to abide by the agreement.

I mention all of this only because the conservative movement in America has been allowed to force their views of organized labor to become the only position to be included in the nation's debate regarding the future for America's workers. It has ceased to be a discussion over what the role of unions should be in America's future but, rather, only a question of what methods Corporate America and the Republican Party can use to destroy the only protections that America's workers still have.

Since so many Americans refuse to take the time to learn the facts regarding the many urgent and truly complicated issues facing them, the Right has found that short, meaningless bumper sticker slogans is all it takes to convince the voters to support their biased opinions and to vote against the best interests of all workers in this nation. Because far too many people unconsciously believe that every problem should be resolved within the same twenty-two minutes as their favorite sitcoms, the Right has seen to it that no in-depth analysis will interfere with the brief attention span of the voters long enough to give them any truth on the topic at hand. This opens the way to the loudest and the most brief of arguments to become policy without the decency of a public debate, since few even are aware that a question may have more than one side to be considered.

It is this point that I have been leading up to, folks. (You knew that I had to get to some point, eventually, didn't you?)

Due to the sad fact that America's Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), the last hope for fairness and responsibility in television, has been become a sacrificial lamb to Corporate America by the simple act of Congress cutting its available funds until the service had little choice but to solicit corporate donations, effectively ceding control over program content to the very miscreants the service was intended to investigate and expose. Because of this loss of content control, important information is refused air time by the service for fear of losing even more funding from Corporate America and their chattel in Congress. Thus are we witnessing outright commercials airing before shows which are only produced to lavish praise on the businesses who sponsor the time slot. Chevron Oil Co. pays for shows which are meant to defuse our fear of global warming using only industry supported research. Arthur Midland McDaniels, a huge producer of chemicals and all of the pollution that it entails, is allowed to produce programs which, without reservation, glorifies the wonders of a world full of man made chemicals and disparaging any voice of concern over the future ills such unthinking mass production of pollutants may engender. The only other topics allowed to be aired are those consisting of either animals or UFOs or people digging out lost civilizations and dinosaurs.

Never is the current role of America's working men and women lauded nor is the valuable role that organized labor plays nor its protections for workers nor the violent history of the murders and beatings and imprisonment of early labor organizers by their own government shown to the viewing public. Without the opportunity to offer opposing viewpoints and solutions to today's many unjust economic policies, the people of America who do the actual work cannot be heard over the shrill keening voices of those who gain their undeserved wealth upon the backs of those very same workers. Nowhere can the average American easily learn that, without organized labor, the average non-union worker would not enjoy 40 hour work weeks, paid holidays, overtime pay, unemployment insurance, Social Security, health and safety laws, pension protection, child labor laws, the abolition of sweat shops (which are once again being created by greedy and unscrupulous companies), health and dental policies, minimum wage acts and all of the other legally mandated protections far too many Americans simply take as their due but which are now under heavy legislative attack by the sycophants who owe their election victories to the vast sums of campaign contributions from Corporate America and who see the average American only as factions to exploit and manipulate.

Because of the one-sided and unjust war waged against the honest and dependable workers in America I am offering the suggestion that we, America's hard working men and women, deserve the opportunity to offer the truth to all Americans using the same medium that is so effectively being used against us, the television broadcast channels. With the skills and talents represented by the members of the various unions, from electricians to construction to transportation and education and on and on, we could easily create the backbone of a system to produce programs to publicize and defend America's most precious but much maligned resource, the workers.

There would be no need for this station to be politicized nor for it to declare itself as supporting one party or the other. Rather, because of the size of the audience available, the various parties would find themselves coming to the worker's channel for much needed and unbiased reporting and exposure. Even Corporate America would soon find its interests would be best served by becoming more supportive of workers in hopes that they be represented as being honest and open with their workers and the public. The channel could offer prime time slots for politicians and scholars and the like to debate and discuss the many important issues facing America. All viewpoints could be heard from and even third party candidates could find the opportunity to offer their solutions or opinions on the current topic, as opposed to the major outlet's offensive habit of limiting debates to very narrow opinions and viewpoints from the Right. The appeal of televised debate could be even wider by using all available mediums, including the internet.

To insure that the channel not appear to be too different from the others, programming would be produced with the same level of excellence once seen on such shows as Nova and Cosmos. By using professional editing and graphics, the schedule could be full of both beautifully produced shows offering information and instruction as well as scientific and other educational programs using MTV style editing and colors (Kratt's Creatures and the popular and intellectually accessible Bill Nye the Science Guy come to mind). This would enable the channel to entice the younger viewers, the very same group that organized labor must soon reach if it intends to remain a valuable and heeded voice in America's future.

Offering the channel in the first place would provide massive publicity simply by virtue of coming into existence. Frankly, the major media stories would undoubtedly consist of dire prediction of its imminent demise but the fact that people would discuss it would become word of mouth advertising at its best.

Since many union members could be induced to provide some level of craft support at start-up, the costs at first could be held to a minimum. Once a break even point is found, then all employees would be paid the going craft wages and eventually in-house educational opportunities could be offered to allow those most shut out of the higher ranks, women and minorities, to attain a level of skill necessary for promotion both within this structure as well as in the public sector. The system could also develop opportunities designed to encourage students at various levels to begin the journey towards achieving the talents and skills needed for gainful employment in the next century.

Finally, the structure of the channel could be one which rewards those businesses with policies friendly to their employees in that they could be allowed to sponsor various programs at much reduced advertising rates. As the channel becomes more and more widely accepted and the viewership expands, that ability to be seen as associated with and friendly to America's workers would become a valuable advertising tool for these same businesses. We could perhaps even design a system of awards and logos which these businesses would be encouraged to include in their advertising.

I suppose my main contention in offering this suggestion is that America's vast labor pool must find some avenue to the masses in order to remove the stains and insults that the Right has found it so easy to cover us with. The myth of the lazy, stupid and greedy union member must be replaced with a more accurate depiction of us as your neighbor, your customer, your sons and fathers and mothers and sisters. We have for far too long been covered with the lies and distortions that those who own the media find themselves having a vested interest in continuing to portray and exploit for their own financial gain.

The recent California election in which a proposition was offered which would have completely hamstrung the unions and kept the worker's voice effectively out of politics may have lost, but the amazing number of union members who voted for it and against their own best interests must serve as a loud wake up call for us all. When the only voices that were allowed to be heard by the nation's major media being those who supported this evil movement and whose lies were never open to public discussion, the unmistakable message was that we, the workers, will be silenced at any cost. Until we gain a voice as everyday Americans, we will continue to be accused of representing ideas and of having traits which are not, in any way, true.

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Copyright 12/10/98