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The One Reason Unions Were Invented

The Best Union in the World Goes on Strike

by DAVID MACARAY

Why is it easier to respect (maybe “respect” isn’t the right word) a self-confessed racist (“I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t like black people.”) than an obvious racist who goes around sanctimoniously pretending he has no prejudices?  Dante was aware of this phenomenon 700 years ago.  In his “Inferno,” Dante consigned the hypocrites and liars to a lower circle of Hell than the murderers.

Over the years I’ve received many letters and comments from people who rejoice in telling me how much they hate labor unions.  They hate unions because they’re too powerful, because they drove our good jobs overseas, because union workers are lazy and incompetent, and “can’t be fired,” and because union officials are greedy and corrupt.

Each assertion can be refuted.  Union members comprise only 11.3-percent of the workforce, with less than 7-percent in the private sector.  Companies relocate abroad to avoid paying American wages, not union wages.  Jobs that offer the best wages and benefits will attract the best workers in the community.  No contract in America (none!) forbids management to fire incompetent workers.  As for greed and corruption, they’re confusing Main Street with Wall Street.

But as full of shit as these letter-writers are, at least they are honest and sincere, and I respect them for voicing their objections, pitiful as they are.  It’s the phonies and pretenders I can’t abide.  They’re the ones who say they would gladly embrace organized labor if only our unions were more like those of Germany.  It’s always Germany.

Of course, these hypocrites are lying through their teeth.  They hate all unions.  They hate all unions because unions are audacious enough to ask for a larger slice of the pie, and these people don’t believe working should get a larger slice….period.  And it’s always Germany they mention—Germany with its discipline, its burgeoning economy, its perceived “partnership” with labor.

The reason these people like German labor unions is because they don’t understand them.  They’ve heard German unions don’t have the same “adversarial” relationship with management that we do, which naturally appeals to them, but what they don’t know is that (1) our own “adversarial” relationship is the result of being denied the very partnership privileges those German workers enjoy, and (2) that German unions are as savvy and tough as they come.  You mess with them at your own peril.

Evidence of that toughness was shown Monday (April 22), when Deutsche Lufthansa airlines announced it had been forced to cancel 99-percent of its European service due to a one-day strike called by a union representing ground workers and cabin crew.  A total of 1,755 flights were grounded.

The Ver.di union, which represents about 33,000 Lufthansa employees, warned the company that additional work stoppages could be expected unless Lufthansa agreed to a 5.2-percent wage increase.  So much for those touchy-feely, non-adversarial German “partnerships.”  The next round of negotiations is scheduled for April 29 and 30.

The strike is partially the result of Lufthansa’s bold announcement that it intends to raise its profits to an all-time record of $3 billion by the year 2015, and plans to do so by cutting operating costs and increasing sales.  Alas, part of that cost-cutting effort includes the elimination of 3,500 jobs.  The union is not only seeking a raise, it’s demanding job security provisions.

It’s doubtful those faux-admirers of German labor unions will remain consistent and approve of the Lufthansa strike.  That’s because they despise anything that disrupts commerce.  They professed to admire German unions when they perceived them to be as tame as puddle ducks, quietly sitting at management’s table, but it’s a whole other deal when a union bares its fangs.

Unions were invented for one reason: to represent the interests of working people.  If you can do that through economic partnerships, good for you; but if it takes militancy and disobedience to get it done, so be it. (Please note: In no way was this thumb-nail sketch of German labor unions meant to be definitive.  Far from it.)

David Macaray, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor”), was a former union rep. dmacaray@earthlink.net