I have spent two days trying to say what I know about work and what has happened to the labor movement in this country. Unity is missing among the workers in America. The labor movement, once powerful enough to dictate legislation that would humanize working conditions, is now in disarray and unions have a poor reputation among people who vote against their best interests when they ignore the calls for support for legislation for decent treatment of those workers who have been frightened away from joining a union.
Unionizing is one form of democratization. We can but look to the success of labor in Poland and the end of Soviet domination there for inspiration. But, this did not cause an influx of workers into the pool of union workers who ultimately vote for their own cause. A union is like any organization that gives each member a vote and these elect representatives who handle the management of money and the direction in which the organization will go. Businesses distance the members into stockholders who vote when changes in ownership and pay for managers are on the table. Their workers are not part of the organization unless they have voted to have a union come in to represent them. Democracy of a sort is practiced in the Board Rooms of big corporations. More direct democracy is practiced in the union halls and for some reason this smacks of “Mobocracy” or is believed to be control by “bosses” or the “mob”.
Now, this essay is about work. My thesis is that no two workers, like no two fingerprints are the same. I was of the persuasion and ability to throw my all into digging holes for my Sergeant while ostensibly fighting for Freedom and Equality in World War II in Liberated France. I know I dug well. I also knew that I was digging that hole because the Sergeant needed a “Jew” from the members of my platoon to do the job and not because I was the best. I did that job well because I brought to it the Protestant Ethic of: work well and you will be rewarded. My reward was jeers from my platoon who came to watch and comment.
Not all work is equal and not all workers work equally. This is a truism that everyone knows. All children are beautiful and not all children are good. You can’t turn your back on the worker in uniform or the cute kid who wriggles away from his keeper to get into trouble. For almost 70 years we have enjoyed the cartoon character, Beetle Bailey, whose exploits in avoiding work are legendary. We all know some malingerer who earns just as much as you do. We all know that your work would be lighter if more hands were added to do the job.
The person who collects the garbage in Utopia is supposed to be paid more for the work is onerous and more disgusting than work requiring sweat and time but not dealing with a smelly and disgusting product. People are not really equal and work is not equal and workers do not join unions. Unions are still not acceptable to the vast majority of Americans. Work is not respected but living well is accepted and sought by all.
The sad thing is that there are lines between classes of workers. Say there is a commercial enterprise in a huge building that has many floors. These floors are divided into departments and the departments into subsections with different kinds of work assigned to the occupants of cubicles throughout. Nine times out of ten there is jealousy and back-biting between the members of different parts of the building. The higher the floor and the ones with the best windows house the bosses and supervisors. The lower the level and the smaller the cubicle, the estimation of the worker and the work that he or she does is valued less.
In working, unity of workers is missing. I still think the Union Movement is just one more aspect of democracy. Of all the unions in all time, only a few have been notorious as the headline grabbers telling about a Union Boss who stole from the union coffers or who was taken over by crime bosses. Unity is missing for not all work is equal. My hole-digging was fair but there were others who were stronger and could do the job faster, neater and better. They were trying to avoid being seen by the Sergeant and were trying for jobs that were paid more in respect and time off.
People will vote against their own interests time and time again. In the attempt to get slot machines into casinos in Florida the lie is that the profits will pay for better education and better schools. The working poor flock to these places to play the slots and gamble and pursue activities that are against their best interests for they cannot afford to gamble and are worshipping “Lady Luck” who is notorious for being fickle and not paying off. But, so it goes.