I am running for office; the position I seek has put me in venues that include owners, professional mid-level skill and management, and working people. Talking with members in each category has been an enlightening experience. We really are one nation, but we are also a vaguely dissonant congeries of interests adhering to one or the other of two contrasting points of view: unions and owners.
Democrats embrace unions because the Democratic Party shares the outlook of union membership. No big insight there. But it’s also a gut thing–Democrats have a visceral understanding of what Unions are all about, regardless of the professional identity of the individual.
On the other hand, the Republicans have a dislike of unions and unionism that goes well beyond the physical or political influence of the union movement in America. Republicans oppose not only unions, but also the very concept of a union. This is a vertical ideological credo; all Republicans adhere to it, even though most who vote Republican do not benefit from their allegiance.
Republicans have been largely able to “buy off” government regulation because most of those who staff government at all levels are deferential to wealth and power. Unions, quite simply, aren’t; and they press for regulations. Unions strongly oppose deregulation, we should examine why.
Most people do not understand the naked aggression that is at the heart of employment in America. There’s a vaguely romantic notion that corporations provide benefits because they understand the needs of working people. While this may be true, corporations certainly don’t embrace them. Republicans are Social Darwinists pure and simple–their creed is survival at the expense of others. Many of the rest of us do not grasp this. We think that the need for unions has passed. We’re not only wrong, we’re being foolish.
Unions understand completely the need for solidarity and the protection it provides. Union members live at the point of the Social Darwinian sword–as do, unfortunately, non-unionized working people. Union members understand that weekends off, vacation pay, health and safety regulations, seniority, job classification, and work rules are not something an employer surrenders control over without serious countervailing power from workers.
Unions, by their very existence, are a standing challenge to the Republican point of view–and a constant rebuttal to Republican claims of superiority.
Many in the middle class have lost sight of the fact that their employment conditions are only slightly different than those of unionized working people, and almost no different from the relationship that unskilled and non-unionized workers have–they can be fired on a whim, for no cause other than failing to kowtow.
Unions bring dignity as well as benefits to the working relationship between labor and capital. The day that America surrenders the union movement to the control of the 1 percent is the day we all will find ourselves reliving history. Unfortunately it will be the history of the Middle Ages and the part we will be learning is that of serf.
Len Harding is a retired consultant, technical writer and historian. He is a Democratic candidate for Clermont County Commissioner.