Why would any working person oppose unionism?

By John Kubinski

    Last summer I went with my family to Hershey Park. The Hershey experience is much more than just an amusement park. The entire town is devoted to the memory of Milton Hershey. The famous chocolate tycoon created the town of Hershey, Pennsylvania. It was home to the original Hershey chocolate factory and Hershey created the town so that his workers would have a nice place to live.

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The amusement park is the result of Hershey providing rides and games for his employees at their annual picnic. Hershey was devoted to his company and his employees. This is all chronicled at the Hershey museum and in various other locations throughout the town, including on the tour trolley which takes you past Hershey’s home and the school he founded for orphaned children.

You would assume that Hershey employees relish their jobs and can’t wait to come to work every day. I found out this not the case. As co-founder of the workers advocacy group The Middle Class Action Project I often stop to talk to working people in various locations and at various events. I’ll talk to ticket takers at stadiums or fast food workers at rest stops or casino workers etc…..

Just to see how working people are being treated and to talk to them about the benefits of being a member of a union. While waiting on line for the monorail I talked to a young man who operated the ride. I asked him if working at Hershey was a dream job (at this point my head was filled with all the pro-Hershey propaganda). He told me he was exhausted and that he was only in the middle of working a double shift, 16 hours. He went on to tell me that it is a regular occurrence and that some nights he sleeps in his car because he has to be back so early in the morning it is not worth the ride home.

I tried to lighten the mood by telling him he must be happy with all the overtime he was making. He told me he didn’t receive any overtime benefits that he was paid straight time at a little more than the minimum wage. When he told me that he sometimes worked more than 50 hours in a week I asked him why Hershey treated their full-time employees so poorly. He told me he wasn’t full-time and that he was considered part-time seasonal help.

At this point I was ready to organize a union right on the spot. I was positive this kid would jump on board. I said to him, you guys should find a union to join. His response all but floored me. He said “Aw, Unions, those guys are always on a break”.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. This kid who slept in his car because he was so exhausted and so over-worked was against unions because they were always on a break. I told the kid he sounded like he could use a break and a raise and what the hell, maybe some health benefits too.

This is a major problem in our country. The corporate media has used its power to brain-wash people against unions. The fictitious portrayal of unions as corrupt tools of organized crime and thuggish brutes that extort money from union members has permeated throughout our society.

Our elected officials that have become rich from private business owners and corporations propose anti-union legislation and have the audacity to call it “right to work” laws. As more and more of our factories are being closed and these jobs are being out-sourced overseas to countries that pay their workers less than a dollar a day and violate their human rights, the companies performing these atrocities are blaming unions for “out pricing” themselves out of the job market.

These companies want the workers to take the blame for their greed. They have actually convinced working people that earning a decent living is bad for business and that they’d better get used to taking less or they won’t get anything at all. Since giant corporations control all aspects of the media, very rarely will you be able to hear the truth. You rarely see Union representatives on Sunday morning talk shows or on news outlets. Our politicians rarely even utter the words Union or Organized Labor.

The decline of Middle Class wages is a direct parallel with the decline in union membership. It is fact that when Unions were strongest in this country, we had a striving and successful middle class. Now, with union membership at its lowest point since the Great Depression, we have a struggling middle class and growing amount of working poor. The only jobs being created are service industry jobs that pay minimum wage. Working people are burdened with bailing out banks and paying for tax breaks for billionaires while their wages remain stagnant and the cost of living keeps rising.

It’s time for the working people of this country to WAKE UP. We need to start standing together. We need to realize that the myth of working harder gets you more. It only makes the rich richer. It’s time for higher wages, fair schedules, vacation time and paid sick leave. It’s time for workers to start taking back the power.

No riches were ever earned without labor. The best defense against corporate greed is organized labor. Unions are the only groups dedicated to making things better for working people. Union members need to start spreading the word. Union leaders need to take to the streets. Organizers need to step up their games. We need to destroy the myths about Unions and start telling the truth. We need to WAKE UP, STAND UP and FIGHT BACK.

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2 responses to “Why would any working person oppose unionism?

  1. Amazingly, [wait, this is not amazing or unexpected], our citizens, for the most part are ignorant, if not intelligible enough to know what is in their best interests, economically. And no one in the national mainstream media or academia, nor in the political arena is educating in the way that will transform repressive economic policies and put us on the path to inclusive prosperity, inclusive opportunity, and inclusive economic justice.

    Our elected officials continue to allow themselves to be bribed in order to hang on to power and to do the bidding of private business owners and corporations who propose anti-union legislation under the seemingly friendly “right to work” slogan.

    The reality is that full employment or even good-paying employment is not the objective of businesses. Companies strive to keep labor input and other costs at a minimum in order to maximize profits for the owners. They strive to minimize marginal cost, the cost of producing an additional unit of a good, product or service once a business has its fixed costs in place in order to stay competitive with other companies racing to stay competitive through technological innovation. Reducing marginal costs enables businesses to increase profits, offer goods, products and services at a lower price, or both. Increasingly, new technologies are enabling companies to achieve near-zero cost growth without having to hire people. Thus, private sector job creation in numbers that match the pool of people willing and able to work is constantly being eroded by physical productive capital’s ever increasing role.

    In addition, to lowering the fixed costs of doing business, jobs are being out-sourced overseas to companies in countries that pay their workers far, far less. The result is that more and more of our factories have been closed with those remaining transforming to even more efficient non-human means of production. As a result of such tectonic shifts in the technologies of production, jobs are constantly being destroyed or shifted to other countries with far lower wage requirements and the worth of labor is being devalued here in the United States.

    While working people do understand they are dependent on their labor worker wages as currently their ONLY means to earn income to survival, and believe that this is their fate, they do not understand that there are real opportunities to advance significantly. This is because business owners and managers constantly drill in the reality that their workers better get used to taking less or they won’t get anything at all, and politicians ONLY see boosting minimum wage rates as a solution.

    While this all sounds hopelessly unsolvable, there are solutions that use insured, interest-free capital credit to empowers workers and for that matter, EVERY citizen, to have access to the means of acquiring and possessing wealth-creating, income-producing capital assets resulting from technological advancement, on the basis that the future investments will generate earnings to pay off the loans and continue to earn income for their new owners. For workers, strong unions are the way to realize this objective, but not any union structure will be suited––certainly not the present union structure and approach that has NEVER even pursued employee ownership of corporations.

    The labor union movement needs to transform to a producers’ ownership union movement and embrace and fight for economic democracy––EVERY worker an OWNER. They should play the part that they have always aspired to––that is, a better and easier life through participation in the nation’s economic growth and progress. As a result, labor unions will be able to broaden their functions, revitalize their constituency, and reverse their decline.

    Unfortunately, at the present time the movement is built on one-factor economics––the labor worker. The insufficiency of labor worker earnings to purchase increasingly capital-produced products and services gave rise to labor laws and labor unions designed to coerce higher and higher prices for the same or reduced labor input. With government assistance, unions have gradually converted productive enterprises in the private and public sectors into welfare institutions. Kelso stated: “The myth of the ‘rising productivity’ of labor is used to conceal the increasing productiveness of capital and the decreasing productiveness of labor, and to disguise income redistribution by making it seem morally acceptable.”

    Binary economist Louis Kelso argued that unions “must adopt a sound strategy that conforms to the economic facts of life. If under free-market conditions, 90 percent of the goods and services are produced by capital input, then 90 percent of the earnings of working people must flow to them as wages of their capital and the remainder as wages of their labor work…If there are in reality two ways for people to participate in production and earn income, then tomorrow’s producers’ union must take cognizance of both…The question is only whether the labor union will help lead this movement or, refusing to learn, to change, and to innovate, become irrelevant.”

    Unions are the only group of people in the whole world who can demand a real Kelso-designed ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan), who can demand the right to participate in the expansion of their employer by asserting their constitutional preferential rights to become capital owners, be productive, and succeed. The ESOP can give employees access to credit so that they can purchase the employer’s stock, pay for it in pre-tax dollars out of the assets that underlie that stock, and after the stock is paid for earn and collect the capital worker income from it, and accumulate it in a tax haven until they retire, whereby they continue to be capital workers receiving income from their capital ownership stakes. This is a viable route to individual self-sufficiency needing significantly less or no government redistributive assistance.

    The unions should reassess their role of bargaining for more and more income for the same work or less and less work, and embrace a cooperative approach to survival, whereby they redefine “more” income for their workers in terms of the combined wages of labor and capital on the part of the workforce. They should continue to represent the workers as labor workers in all the aspects that are represented today––wages, hours, and working conditions––and, in addition, represent workers as full voting stockowners as capital ownership is built into the workforce. What is needed is leadership to define “more” as two ways to earn income.

    If we continue with the past’s unworkable trickle-down economic policies, governments will have to continue to use the coercive power of taxation to redistribute income that is made by people who earn it and give it to those who need it. This results in ever deepening massive debt on local, state, and national government levels, which leads to the citizenry becoming parasites instead of enabling people to become productive in the way that products and services are actually produced.

    When labor unions transform to producers’ ownership unions, opportunity will be created for the unions to reach out to all shareholders (stock owners) who are not adequately represented on corporate boards, and eventually all labor workers will want to join an ownership union in order to be effectively represented as an aspiring capital owner. The overall strategy should assure that the labor compensation of the union’s members does not exceed the labor costs of the employer’s competitors, and that capital earnings of its members are built up to a level that optimizes their combined labor-capital worker earnings. A producers’ ownership union would work collaboratively with management to secure financing of advanced technologies and other new capital investments and broaden ownership. This will enable American companies to become more cost-competitive in global markets and to reduce the outsourcing of jobs to workers willing or forced to take lower wages.

    Kelso stated, “Working conditions for the labor force have, of course, improved over the years. But the economic quality of life for the majority of Americans has trailed far behind the technical capabilities of the economy to produce creature comforts, and even further behind the desires of consumers to live economically better lives. The missing link is that most of those unproduced goods and services can be produced only through capital, and the people who need them have no opportunity to earn income from capital ownership.”

    Walter Reuther, President of the United Auto Workers, expressed his open-mindedness to the goal of democratic worker ownership in his 1967 testimony to the Joint Economic Committee of Congress as a strategy for saving manufacturing jobs in America from being outcompeted by Japan and eventual outsourcing to other Asian countries with far lower wage costs: “Profit sharing in the form of stock distributions to workers would help to democratize the ownership of America’s vast corporate wealth, which is today appallingly undemocratic and unhealthy.

    “If workers had definite assurance of equitable shares in the profits of the corporations that employ them, they would see less need to seek an equitable balance between their gains and soaring profits through augmented increases in basic wage rates. This would be a desirable result from the standpoint of stabilization policy because profit sharing does not increase costs. Since profits are a residual, after all costs have been met, and since their size is not determinable until after customers have paid the prices charged for the firm’s products, profit sharing [through wider share ownership] cannot be said to have any inflationary impact on costs and prices.”

    Unfortunately for democratic unionism, the United Auto Workers, American manufacturing workers, and American citizens generally, Reuther was killed in an airplane crash in 1970 before his idea was implemented. Leonard Woodcock, his successor, nor any subsequent successor, never followed through.

  2. I love unions as an MSW social worker and CUPE (Local 79), OPSEU (Local 331) Shop Steward, unions offer health and safety protection, enabled me to shut down a dangerous building, expose bad management and harmful policies, protect workers and vulnerable clients from management abuse, harassment and breeches to Human Rights, enabled me to take the lead in social change during my lengthy career. Of course, there is always a back lash however I was able to “Stay Alive” and I have a lovely old soul and never sold out.

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