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David Sirota Headshot

Why Everybody - Not Just Union Workers - Should Care About the Labor Movement

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Barely a day goes by without some right-wing blowhard demonizing unions as an antichrist-like scourge ruining America. Lately, it's been shills like California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), who hates unions and working people so much he actually used his line-item veto power to effectively eliminate the University of California's $3.8 million labor education curriculum, even though it amounts to less than the rounding error in his state's $117 billion budget.

Then again, Schwarzenegger is just mimicking the same corrupt and dishonest behavior as the Republican Party and Corporate America have been for years. Their goal is simple: they want you to believe unions are bad for everybody - union and non-union workers alike. They want you to believe this so they can justify their profit-motivated efforts to dismantle the entire labor movement. Too bad the data undermines their entire point: the simple fact is that unions actually help everybody, whether you are in a union or not.

As labor expert Nathan Newman explains, the mere threat of unionization in an industry raises wage, workplace and benefits standards for everybody. Just look at Costco:

Only 18% of Costco's workforce is unionized, but as this Labor Research Association article details, this has a ripple effect throughout the company. If the company didn't extend similar benefits to the non-union Costco employees, the whole company would be unionized rapidly...And in a similar way, while only 10% of the private workforce is unionized in the United States, this has profound effects in keeping wages higher for most non-union workers as well.

Newman goes on to point to another article that shows that even the consultants that Corporate America hires to bust unions often "advise companies to "improve work conditions as a key strategy to keep unions out." That isn't to say that these anti-union hacks are good people - but it shows again that the mere threat of unionization frightens companies into behaving thesmelves (or at least behaving better).

Clearly, the alliance between Big Business and the Republican Party has been, in part, responsible for demonizing unions and thus driving down union membership and reducing union rights. They ultimately want a country that has no unions at all, and they claim that would be good for America.

Not hearing the counter argument to this out of the anti-union corporate media, most Americans probably believe that wouldn't affect them, because most Americans aren't in a union. But as we see, nothing could be further from the truth. If we hadn't had a strong union movement in America's history, we wouldn't have a weekend, we'd have a 7 day work week; we wouldn't have a minimum wage, we'd have slave wages (which we are approaching fast because Congress refuses to raise the minimum wage); and we wouldn't have laws preventing child labor, we'd have kids working in sweatshops.

You might think all of these things aren't at risk if we don't have a strong union movement in the future - but you are wrong. Top government officials like Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, for instance, have said they want to abolish the minimum wage. And with deep-pocketed allies like, say, Wal-Mart, that kind of idea could take off. Only with a strong union movement can we prevent this kind of lunacy - a lunacy that would affect all of us, union or non-union workers - from becoming federal law.