Monday, March 7, 2011

March 7: Unions Must Fully Regroup

By Sylvia Gurinsky

The rallies currently taking place in Wisconsin and other states over union rights and benefits should be just the beginning.

There are plenty of legitimate arguments that unions, while funding plenty of mostly Democratic political campaigns during the last 30 years, haven't done nearly enough to protect and build on the employment and employee rights they were created to fight for almost a century ago.

Perhaps the death of union bulwark George Meany in 1980 and President Ronald Reagan's mass firing of unionized air traffic controllers who went on strike in 1981 gave unions some fears. The union management problems of the late-1980s and early-90s, including the incompetence that helped lead to the demise of businesses such as Eastern Airlines, didn't help. Neither has public opinion against sports unions, generally seen to represent millionaires and not the rank-and-file workers.

Weakened, the unions did not fight vigorously enough against trade pacts and deals with American businesses that led to millions of jobs being shipped to other countries, an increasing salary gap between workers and executives, the continuing lag in salary between women and men or the conditions that led to the current economic crisis.

Unions also did not keep up with the evolving technology as longstanding American employment mainstays collapsed.

Now, the unions will have battles in dozens of states to maintain the rights they still have. They need to be not just maintenance battles. They need to be the start of a new war to re-create, preserve and protect the rights of all workers to good American jobs with good benefits.

Right-wingers and big business are trying to put unions and protections for workers completely out of business. Unions must fully regroup and remember why they exist in the first place.

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