Labor movements are a natural democratic response to the environment created by commerce and industry. A united workforce electing leaders to decide the rules of the economic game -- how much workers should be paid, working conditions, even business practices pursued by their employer -- is the same concept as a citizen representative deciding foreign policy or the rule of law.
Just as democratically elected representation augmented or usurped earlier dictatorial governing systems, workers fomented change by putting their representatives into positions of power within their work place.
While Greece is lauded as the earliest democracy, Ancient Rome stands out for its labor guilds. Democracies eventually emancipated the disenfranchised and worker guilds represented those whose productivity created wealth.
Additionally, in Europe's very earliest recorded days labor unions were the key to peaceful governance. Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome, encouraged national unity by separating, "the people into guilds based on the occupation of the members whatever their origin." Workers identified with each other as artisans and workers and this helped eliminate ethnic and tribal differences.
In fact, worker alliances were so successful that business alliances were formed using labor guilds as their model. Merchants organized according to the type of merchandize they sold and set prices for their goods, just as organized labor unions set the price for workers' skills and time.
Few Americans are aware of ancient Greek or Roman history. And while it might reverse our current economic disparity to remind folks that there is nothing wrong with employees working together to secure equity and respect at the workplace, there simply aren't too many folks out there trying. But there are some.
Award winning broadcaster, Rick Smith, and his family have hopped into a rented RV and set out to re-discover labor's forgotten past. The 7,800 mile cross-country trip sounds like an ambitious vacation idea for a 46 year-old former Teamster, his wife and their three kids, but it becomes much more than that when you add the fact that Rick's broadcasting weekdays on his progressive radio program back in central Pennsylvania.
Rick's no longer a Teamster but as a member of the Communications Workers of America, he's broadcasting through July 5th from the family labor history tour.
And along with The Rick Smith Show's producer, Brett Banditelli, I've been invited along for the ride. Rick's broadcast listeners can tune into the show at its regular broadcast time and pod casts are available 24/7 on the web.
Brett makes sure that all the technical aspects of the program are in place, and I'm here to do my favorite kind of journalism -- writing and broadcasting in real time what everyday folks see, learn and take away from the experience.
Our little journey started out at the Talkers New York 2013 Conference this past week. On the sixth of June we sat in a room along with many of the broadcasters who are responsible for America's appalling ignorance of organized labor and U.S. history. From government health care death panels to labor union agendas, America's conservative talk hosts -- the bread and butter of the talk radio industry -- have gotten it wrong and passed that wrong information on to their 48 million listeners.
Rick doesn't kid himself that his little traveling family of fact finders and historical truth seekers will singlehandedly over-turn decades of misrepresentations by his colleagues in talk radio, but if enough like minded folks jump on the band wagon he might not have to do it alone.
If every one of the more-than 16 million U.S. workers represented by labor unions tells two friends what Rick and his family uncover along their journey, that will be 48 million people who know the truth. And that evens the score. Considering Teamsters President Jim Hoffa has already endorsed the trip, Rick's grass-roots re-education scheme just might work.
What does that mean for the conservative talk radio Goliaths who are shills for the "free market" and "right to work" movements? Well, Rick says, "The big boys might like it if they get a run for their money. While they victimize the little guy, it must be kind of disappointing that not enough of us call them on it. And I'm proud of my wife and kids who are willing to join me on this journey into America's majestic past. We've got a small radio slingshot, and we're aiming to hit the big boys right between the eyes."