Now indeed is the winter of our labor discontent.
Scott Walker, you'll recall, is the Rethuglican who has creatively called his union-busting scheme a "budget repair" bill. Once we've finished stripping workers of all their rights - collective bargaining is just the first step! there's so much more that can be taken away once the collective bargaining is gone! - we can bring back many useful practices from the good ol' days. The history of Blair Mountain is instructive in this regard. Maybe you'll want to go visit Blair Mountain, and see the historical marker, but I'd do it now if I were you, before Mr. Peabody rips it off the face of the earth to get at the coal underneath.
Two years ago, Blair Mountain was entered into the National Register of Historic Places. And then, just a few months later, it was taken off by state officials.
Lawyers hired by West Virginia's largest coal companies came up with a list of landowners who, they said, objected to the designation.
"There's apparently a lot of money to be made by blowing this mountain up and taking all the coal out from it," labor historian Gordon Simmons says, referring to mountaintop removal.
Fuck you, coal companies. Isn't it enough that your predecessors had a hired army of goons and federal troops dispatched by the president to keep coal miners from forming a union? Now you want to literally erase the history from the face of the earth? Fuck. You.
Well, Scott Walker's not calling in the troops yet on the citizens of Wisconsin. I'm sure that's just crazy to even imagine. Why, people have the right to collective bargaining! Oh wait, he's taking that away. Well, they have the right to be in a union! Oh wait, he's trying to make it really, really, really hard for there to be a union at all, what with the yearly votes for the union to exist, and the optional dues, and the fact that once your union can't bargain, and pay raises are strictly limited, you're going to wonder why you should pay dues or be in the union at all. You might as well join the Elks and spent your union dues on beer; at least you'll get drunk for your money.
So once the union is gone, and the plutocrats can pay us whatever they deem we are worth, and fire us whenever they feel like it, and take away our benefits on a whim - oh wait, you're saying, that's my life now? Because you're not in a union. Have you grumbled about unions in the past? A union exists to protect you from all that. But they talked you into thinking that the union was making your life hell, not the top 400 of them who hold more cash, stocks, and land than the bottom 155 million of us combined. Crabs in a barrel, they wanted to make us, and it mostly worked.
Anyway, as I was saying, once they've taken us back to the point where we have as many rights as those coal miners at Blair Mountain (maybe they'll start paying us in scrip again!), they can imprison us even faster than they do now. Pennsylvania's prison population has grown 500% in the last 30 years - that's a promising industry! A caller to Marty Moss-Coane's radio show this morning suggested that prisoners be placed 3 to a cell, but only two of them in the cell at any given time; one would always be out working an eight hour shift. Put the prisoners to work! Well, at least they'd have an eight hour day, if not a five-day work week. But why be limited by the arbitrary eight-hour day? We could pack them four to a cell and take out two at a time for 12-hour shifts. It's not like they have a union or anything.
Yeah, where did you think your eight-hour day and five-day work week came from? Oh, you say, not me, I'm a professional, I'm a scientist, I'm a grad student/postdoc/professor, and I work long hours. I'm k3rntastic! Science demands no less, I work for the love of it, I work long hours because if I don't someone else will step right into my place and work just as hard and take my job. Oh crap, that last one sounds just exactly like what the coal miners used to say before they got themselves organized and formed a union. You know what? Coal miners are professionals too, and take pride in their work, and love what they do, too. They like having a union that regulates working conditions, and says if you work overtime you get time and a half. What do policies like that do? They create more jobs, and make employers think twice about overworking the employees they do have, because it costs more. Oh, unions won't work for science. Science is so different! Believe me, baby, if you wanted a union bad enough, you'd find a way to make it work.
Listen up: Philip Dray, author of There Is Power In A Union: The Epic Story Of Labor In America, will be on Fresh Air this afternoon, to put the Wisconsin union battle in a historical context. Listen live at 3 pm or audio available online after 5 pm. Read the little blurb about the show - it's fascinating. Here's the piece that was a real shocker even for me.
[quoting Dray]: Every city in America has these large brick armories in the city. I used to think they were there for soldiers to gather to go abroad but those were built in an era when authorities wanted a place where soldiers could gather to bring down local labor unrest.
Yeah, they didn't teach me any of this history in school. Certainly not in the coal patch public schools. They did not tell me how the tax dollars of our forebears went to constructing buildings for the express purpose of gathering troops to suppress the formation of unions by those same forebears. Well, not the tax dollars of the Blair Mountain coal miners, per se. They were paid in scrip, which could only be spent at the company store.
If you have a few extra dollars in your pocket this month, consider donating to a union to help fund organizing struggles, general strike funds, etc. You can become an associate member of the United Mine Workers of America for $5 a month. Write to your congressperson and insist that Blair Mountain be placed on National Register of Historic Places, not ripped apart by coal companies. Speak up when someone is union bashing and say you wish everyone had the kinds of benefits and job security that a union can negotiate for its members. Don't be a crab in the barrel that the plutocrats and Rethuglicans are constructing for us all.
My grandparents lived through the union-organizing hell of the past. Let's not go back there in Governor Walker's handbasket.