“If I went to work in a factory, the first thing I’d do would be to JOIN A UNION.” This was the slogan which was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the slogan appeared on union recruiting posters. This was during the era in which the Congress of Industrial Organizations began to move in, and represent industries that the American Federation of Labor had rejected, including the automobile industry. And even with high hourly wages, there were the seasonal layoffs which resulted in a reduction of the average union worker’s wages, as well as “speed-ups” whenever management wanted to elevate the assembly line’s work rate.
In response to management tactics that included exploiting racial and religious tensions among African Americans, Southern whites, and Catholics, these autoworkers initiated the sit-down strike. These unionized workers were no longer going to allow management to discourage worker solidarity. And by the time that Alfred M. Landon became presidential timber in the 1936 election, membership in the CIO had soared to well over 3 million workers.
In the aftermath of the Great Depression, the administration of FDR altered the lives of industrial workers by strengthening the unions with federal legislation that protected collective bargaining. The ranks of the middle class expanded as a result, and recently, labor unions have been very assertive in a U.S. economy caught up in what seems to be a perpetual trade war with China, and corporate executives who have seen their earnings rise by 900 percent while the average union worker has seen a 12 percent increase.
The current United Auto Workers strike, which involves union workers from Michigan to Texas, is something that every American should get behind when you consider the ripple effect of one of the issues the UAW has on the table, and that is unallocated plants. Consider what would transpire if one plant in Youngstown, Ohio, sits idle while hundreds of workers are not working, and the ripple effect on the community. Now, why should the average American care about the current UAW strike? There may be no immediate impact, but eventually the strike could impact the availability of automobiles in the U.S.
It should come as no surprise as to the recent assertiveness of unions when you consider in the wake of the big government bailouts of the auto industry, and now that everything is “bigly” again, that the workers want their fair share in terms of profit sharing. After all, we are only talking about incentive plans like a 401(k), and a unionized autoworker simply wants to regain what they had lost during the 2008 downturn, and maintain their low health care costs. Senator Bernie Sanders claims that Medicare For All should appeal to the unions because it will give organized labor more leverage in terms of higher wages, as well as comprehensive coverage without any co-pays, premiums or deductibles.
Within the political arena, there is a movement on the left that supports the UAW, despite a recent Justice Department corruption probe of UAW President Gary Jones. President Donald Trump’s tax cut law certainly did not provide much incentive as the effects are waning in terms of building the next generation of vehicles. The Trump tax cut provided $2.3 trillion to the top 1 percent of the shareholders, but what has this done for the autoworkers? Where is Trump’s long term strategy to lift up the workers? Because, in the final analysis, the Trump administration should be propping the worker up, not knocking them down, and the workers just want a product with a market.
Brent Been is a Tahlequah educator with a special emphasis on civics and history.