Protests in Wisconsin might well be a harbinger of things to come. Increasingly, unions will find themselves pitted against those who would take workers back to the days when management treated workers as serfs, while workers did as they were told or starved. The rise of unions in the early part of the 20th century, along with the right to bargain collectively, gave workers a voice.
Some will say that as they grew stronger, the unions themselves became bloated and corrupt. Before we abandon unions altogether, however, we should measure the potential human and economic consequences.
Today, many skilled workers routinely work 60 hours per week as their companies pare down the work force. Productivity gains brought about by advances in technology now allow one to do the work previously done by four. The remaining workers understand that complaining about long hours and stressful work environments will result in their own terminations. They understand that a paycheck is essential to the well-being of their families, so they show up each day to do their jobs. They are also tethered to their employers via their smart phones and laptops, never truly off duty or even on "vacation."
In tough times, non-union workers know that they lack bargaining power. When ordinary workers belonged to unions, the middle class thrived, working conditions improved and American industry led the world to an era of unprecedented prosperity. We should not abandon the workers by condoning the elimination of collective bargaining, and ultimately, the destruction of unions themselves.
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Phyllis Bartoe Hilton Head Island