Give Thanks To The Labor Movement

benefits of labor unions in AmericaIn honor of Jobs Week on AOL Jobs, I want to speak up in praise of an entity that has taken a beating this year – the labor union. Anti-union sentiment has spread from state to state, and union busting has become popular under the banner of money savings. Before your billionaire CEO convinces you that labor unions are bad, please don't forget what life was like in the bad old days before unions.

Maybe you don't remember the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory from your American History classes. I'll remind you. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was a sweatshop. Women and children, mostly immigrants, worked for terrible wages in terrible conditions. When a fire broke out, they couldn't escape because the employer had locked them in. Wouldn't want employees to take breaks or anything, would you? The employer said it was to stop theft. The fire escapes had collapsed and the elevators stopped working in the 10-story building. One hundred forty six workers died that day in 1911, many as young as 14. It was, until 9/11, the worst tragedy in New York history.

In a speech about the tragedy, explaining what lessons workers needed to learn from it, Rose Schneiderman said:

I would be a traitor to these poor burned bodies if I came here to talk good fellowship. We have tried you good people of the public and we have found you wanting.

The old Inquisition had its rack and its thumbscrews and its instruments of torture with iron teeth. We know what these things are today; the iron teeth are our necessities, the thumbscrews are the high-powered and swift machinery close to which we must work, and the rack is here in the firetrap structures that will destroy us the minute they catch on fire.

This is not the first time girls have been burned alive in the city. Every week I must learn of the untimely death of one of my sister workers. Every year thousands of us are maimed. The life of men and women is so cheap and property is so sacred. There are so many of us for one job it matters little if 146 of us are burned to death.

We have tried you citizens; we are trying you now, and you have a couple of dollars for the sorrowing mothers, brothers and sisters by way of a charity gift. But every time the workers come out in the only way they know to protest against conditions which are unbearable the strong hand of the law is allowed to press down heavily upon us. Public officials have only words of warning to us--warning that we must be intensely peaceable, and they have the workhouse just back of all their warnings. The strong hand of the law beats us back, when we rise, into the conditions that make life unbearable.

I can't talk fellowship to you who are gathered here. Too much blood has been spilled. I know from my experience it is up to the working people to save themselves. The only way they can save themselves is by a strong working-class movement.

As a result of this terrible tragedy, New York strengthened its labor laws. An investigation showed 200 factories had equally dangerous conditions for workers.

Before the labor movement, it wasn't uncommon for sweatshops to engage in human trafficking. Workers in coal mines, factories, farms and many other workplaces were sometimes forced to work while getting further and further in debt. Many workers were paid in company "scrip" that they could use only at the company store. They could never save for their families and never hope for a better life. Children had to work starting very young, to help support their families, with no opportunity to go to school.

The next time you hear someone knock the labor movement and say unions aren't necessary, please remember that, without unions, our workers would not have these benefits we take for granted:

  • Minimum wage
  • Overtime pay
  • Safety standards/OSHA
  • Paid vacation
  • Sick days
  • Child labor laws
  • Weekends
  • 40-hour work week
  • Health benefits
  • Unemployment compensation

Now that your job (or old job) doesn't look half as bad anymore, make sure you thank union leaders for the rights you take for granted. Think they can't take away those rights? Then you aren't paying attention. Wake up, before it's too late.


Next: The Good News About Career Transitions In Today's Economy

Stories from 24/7 Wall St.

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum


Filter by:

With all due respect, i don't feel you know what your talking about Donna. I have worked Union and Non Union jobs over the last 20 years. I can tell you from personal experience and my pocketbook that i was much better off with my Non Union jobs then i ever was with the Union ones. Unions did nothing but take my money sad to say. Someone in a previous comment used the term "Leeches" when referencing their experiences with unions. I feel they were being polite, the term Leeches from my perspective is to kind when referencing Unions. I think they served their purpose in the early part of the the 20th century, they corrected alot of wrongs that were happening at that time in history. Now they are nothing more then the downfall of this country and businesses.

October 08 2011 at 2:10 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Thank You - Thank You!....It is about time that you have an article of the atrosities that used to acure before UNIONS!...So many people forget...or listen to LIES spread by people who HATE the middle class. I have been union for a long time. I KNOW for fact life would be very different, if it were not for the Brother/Sisterhood. I am blessed to have had a career in which I proudly say was UNION. God bless these fine men and women who work so hard to make sure workers are treated FAIRLY! Fair is all anybody wants.

October 08 2011 at 1:57 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Before I retired recently I spent 30 years managing both union and non-union shops.
And I have to tell you that the union shops were much better. Both in that the employees were paid a fair wage and had benefits. And that I could run the union shops with fewer employees because they tended to be better trained, took more pride in their work and they stayed with the company.

October 08 2011 at 1:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to ChisnaAlaska's comment


October 08 2011 at 1:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Americans working for health insurance and a decent retirement and all we get is grief. WHY?

October 08 2011 at 1:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to creightonbeth's comment

not all out here have grief--,broken backs etc=but not true grief--

October 08 2011 at 1:29 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

There is a stirring taking place in America. One can almost feel it. There is a change coming that won't involve labor unions, won't involve voting, won't involve writing stupid comments on blog pages, and won't involve debate. What has been going on in this country for the past thirty years is beginning to come to an end, and the methods for achieving this change will be different from the past. Stay tuned!

October 08 2011 at 12:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The labor unions were needed and I am from a union family -- painters' and decorators' union, printers' union, proofreaders' union. But lately the unions have been getting way out of hand with both their demands and the pensions of their officers. They're not what they used to be and it pains me to have to say that!

October 08 2011 at 12:16 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
C and R Ventures

The labor unions were needed and in the past 40 years or so have become a hinderance on business and have cost jobs. The airline industry was almost destroyed by the unions, the auto industries in the US have been decismated by them, and the teachers unions (especially in NY) have given us the sorry excuse for teaching we enjoy today. The minimum wage is driving many businesses out of business 9.04 in WA. and 8.XX in OR. Businesses have to raise their prices to afford to pay the workers which makes whatever min. is to little. Minimum is a starting wage and if your employer doesn't give you a raise after you become a better worker it may be time to look for another job.

October 07 2011 at 11:56 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to C and R Ventures's comment
Steven Sanders

well, let's address your errors. The aircraft industry is STILL a VERY profitable one and still unionized. As a member of the United Auto and Aerospace workers, I know this to be a fact. Second, the auto industry cut it's own throat by offering a product that was far below the quality of foreign imports. If unions are the problem, then why are so many companies that still have union affiliations reporting record bonuses to their execs? And, a small point to ass. IF unions were still strong in this country, and true brotherhood and solidarity were alive and well, then jobs being shipped overseas would not be going on. The walkout of every sympathetic union over it would prove that the problems the corps faced was nothing compared to being put out of business. But you've either allowed yourself to buy into the bull that it is unions that have caused all the problems...a position mostly held by neo-conservatives...the same neo-conservatives that are taking home those record bonuses. OR, you are in their pocket.

October 08 2011 at 12:49 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Steven Sanders's comment

really ? then where were these big deal unions when nafta cafta etc was going on ? and of course it's those nasty neOcons spreading bs about the unions and OF COURSE the big wheels IN THE UNION ARE PAUPERS,right ? WHO PAYS THEIR SALARIES and for WHAT ??? and comparing the unions to management and to the executive level is telling us an apple is like an orange and now we look at the pineapple----means nothing.///sorry steve---YOU'RE in your masters pocket. and that master is your unioN.-

October 08 2011 at 1:36 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down

Times change. At one point in time there was a need for labor unions to protect workers which they did as long as it was in the interest of the labor leaders.

The main purpose now of labor unions is to feed the union leadership. As you might say a corporation is greedy, the purpose of the present labor unions is to get as much money as possible for the workers, while negotiating for the worker to do less. This has worked very well in government where politicians don't really care when it comes to agreement because it is not their money.

Look at the number of companies that many unions and locals basically put out of business because they were not willing to compromise. I know that some unions have negotiated givebacks but that is not the norm and is usually because the alternative is no job.

October 07 2011 at 11:42 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply

We need to rid ourselves of labor unions and the Dept of Labor, which simply does the labor unions' bidding. They are both corrupt and both need to go.

October 07 2011 at 11:36 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply

Union value has been replaced by OSHA and the Dept of Labor. The Unions are now money machines for political and self interest. They are killing our economy, business growth and government services. The largest and most successfull company in the world is non-union, Walmart. The teachers union is killing our education system. Their self-interest and agenda has nothing to do with the education our children and the results are clearly evident.

October 07 2011 at 11:22 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

Search Articles

Picks From the Web