Of all the many comments,
pro and con, that have been made
about the widespread attempts to weaken American unions, none have been clearer
or more on the mark than the words of President Bob King of the United Auto
King, of course, is on the
union side of the argument. But
as King made very clear, that's the side to be on if you believe working people
should have full collective bargaining rights and the decent wages, hours and
working conditions that result from fair bargaining.
King's comments came in an
exceptional column in the latest
issue of Solidarity, the UAW's official magazine.The column is titled, simply, "Do Justice."
To Bob King, "doing justice
does not mean trying to
reduce the wages, benefits and standard of living of all workers in
America," as far too many Republican politicians at all levels of
government are trying to accomplish, with their main target – for now–
"Doing justice to me," said
King, "means that
everyone has an equal opportunity, and if they make the individual decision to
work hard and live by the rules, then they will be able to live a middle-class
standard of living and retire with dignity and maintain their middle-class
standard of living."
I know, and you know, that
can't happen if working people
are denied the essential right to unionization – the essential right to a
strong bargaining voice in determining their pay and benefits through their
unions. That's obvious, for unionization is the main reason for the rise of an
American middle class,beginning
with the granting of union rights to most workers by federal law in the 1930s.
But as Bob King warned, those
rights and the middle class
they established are under serious attack by anti-union politicians and others
who "preach the vision of scarcity, the vision of division and the vision
Ours is a country gifted
with great abundance, with plenty
to give each of us a fair share. But union opponents preaching "the vision
of scarcity" deny that. They act as if there's not enough in this, the
world's richest country, to give a fair share to all.
Yet there is enough to go
around, as we should know, and
unions are the primary vehicles for guaranteeing that working people get their
fair share of our abundance.
Which is why greedy corporate
interests and other anti-labor
forces that want a larger share at the expense of others argue selfishly
against unions and, indeed, against the very concept of collective bargaining.
The anti-union forces that
preach scarcity, noted King, are
saying in effect that we should be selfish, that "we had better be jealous
of anyone who has more than we do. We had better try to take away from someone
who has more than us and bring them down to our level of scarcity rather than
trying to bring ourselves (and everyone else) up to their level."
That's clearly what's behind
the attempts to reduce or even
deny public employees and others the pensions and other fringe benefits and in
some cases the pay raises they won in past bargaining and that they earned
through their often hard work.
It's not just a matter of
wages, hours and working
conditions. As King said, doing justice also means "giving workers a real
voice in decision making in building the best product or providing the best
service for their customers."
Auto workers know that all
too well. It isn't U.S. auto
workers who are in charge of designing and marketing the vehicles that so many
American buyers reject in favor of those designed and skillfully marketed by
Japanese firms and other foreign auto makers. U.S. auto workers only build
them, in accord with the designs of others that have proved unpopular with so
many American drivers.
We shouldn't forget, either,
as King reminded his members,
that the exercise of the legal union rights granted U.S. workers in the
thirties "dramatically reduced poverty and created a far greater sharing
of the wealth of this country, The exercise of these rights built the Great
American Middle Class." Certainly we do not want to destroy or even weaken
a movement capable of such deeds.
King said "the forces teaching
scarcity, division and
fear have been working very successfully to destroy the American middle class.
They want workers to have less and less so the wealthiest can have more and
Rebuilding rather than destroying
the middle class is what's
badly needed, for "there cannot be a strong democracy without a strong
middle class, and there cannot be a strong middle class without strong
It comes down to this, said
auto workers President King:
"Do we want an America of scarcity, division and fear, or do we want an
America of abundance, common good and deep caring about one another?"