I wish the collectivist left would make up its mind. One the one hand, we have been bombarded for the past few years with the emergent doctrine that the government is the answer to just about everything. On the other hand, the people who work directly for the government organize themselves into unions—the very need for which implies that the workers need a measure of protection from their employer—the government.
It seems like a case of wanting things both ways. As we the people are called upon to cede more and more control of everything that matters to the government, we are also bearing witness to a rather odd spectacle. The very workers who form the delivery mechanism for various government services and benefits are, in effect, presenting themselves as victims of abuse by that same government.
The history of labor organization in the United States is an interesting study, dating back to what happened in Lowell, Massachusetts several decades before the Civil War. It is a story of conflict, creativity, charisma, and constructive change. That’s right, even a diehard “right-to-worker” can recognize that the development of unions in America was a good thing, in spite of excesses and difficulties along the way. Our national narrative is punctuated with fascinating people who, in the name of American workers, sought to improve conditions and correct abuse and injustice. Names like Eugene Debs, John L. Lewis, Walter Reuther, Homer Martin, George Meany, Mother Jones—even Jimmy Hoffa—remind us of days gone by. In many cases, we might rightly find their politics and methods very far from being our cup of tea today, but things like an eight-hour day, vacation time, sick leave, and other benefits humanized brute capitalism.
The story of unions in America is a real David versus Goliath tale, with underdogs banding together in solidarity to make a better life for all. It is also a tale of a pendulum swing as the underdog eventually came to a place of parity, then superiority. Then it all changed as the victim became a bit of a bully. That’s always ugly.
But there is no doubt that in the private sector, where the issue was corporate profit and even greed, organized labor once performed a vital function, raising the standard of living for many American families. My father was a Teamster and I am sure I benefited from his union affiliation.