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Opinion: Labor Day 2009

By Laurel Busch
Published: Last Updated on

Our first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, said, “The strongest bond of human sympathy outside the family relation should be one uniting working people of all nations and tongues and kindreds.”

You won’t find many people saying that now. The word “unite” is a little too close to the word “union” for some, and the golden age of unions ended decades ago. Now non-union workers are as likely to attack unions as employers are. In political campaigns, most Republican rhetoric is anti-union while many Democratic candidates ignore unions completely.

Another thing Pres. Lincoln said was “Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if Labor had not first existed. Labor is superior to capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.” Another Republican president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, said, “Only a fool would try to deprive working men and working women of their right to join the union of their choice.” What has happened since then?

I’m familiar with all the criticisms of unions. I’m married to a union member, and I’ve seen some of the ugly sides of them (although never a strike by his union). The downsides of unions are far outweighed by the fact that my husband’s membership has helped him get good wages and good benefits for his skills and hard work. I’m the one with the bachelor’s degree, but we would never make it if we depended on my non-union jobs. I’ve often said unions have their faults but they’re the best thing working people have to deal with employers until something better comes along.

That’s why it’s hard for me to understand why some non-union working people join employers in attacking unions. The only explanation that makes sense to me is that they don’t think of themselves as working people any more. They identify with their employers instead.

On Labor Day 2009, workers are abundantly available and willing to work on any terms. Employers have much to celebrate. As long as they can keep enough workers on their side, it’s likely to stay this way even when the economy begins to improve.

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