Monday, September 01, 2014

Labor Day....

Today is Labor Day, and for many, we think of this as the "official" end to summer. Many colleges and K-12 schools have already started, and some start up this week (my kids start tomorrow). But I'm looking at THIS particular Labor Day, and thinking of how labor and the labor movement did so much for us today.  

As much as I am a history buff, I will confess that I am not that knowledgeable about the labor movement here in the United States.  But I do have enough knowledge to know that organized labor, in particular, has had a dramatic impact on our society:  the hours we work are 8 hours a day; overtime laws (which vary state-by-state and even federally); standards of conduct in hiring and firing. All of these can be attributed to the labor movement and organized labor - unions.

But it is that final point I wish to discuss: unions.  While I have family and friends that are involved in various unions (my brother, Jim, for example, is a teacher and in the teacher's union), and I appreciate their efforts to insure that the workers they represent and lobby for are taken care of, I must say that as an outside observer, I wonder how much longer they can last.

The irony is that many unions, in lobbying for better work standards, hours, pay, etc., and seeing those enacted into federal or state legislation, have actually created a paradox: they got what they wanted, now how relevant are they? Look at the various grocery worker strikes that seem to do little to benefit the workers; the once vaunted and powerful Teamsters, which still has sway, but certainly not the swagger it did 40-50 years ago under Jimmy Hoffa. And in my own personal experience, sitting in rehearsal with the Pacific Chorale, and John Alexander was just finishing up something when the union rep for the Pacific Symphony Orchestra started to pack up his double-bass, signaling for the rest of the orchestra to do the same. Most did, but a few stayed at their music stands to listen to John and note what he was asking. But I can tell you that there was more than one disgruntled chorale member who felt that John was really just about done - maybe a few seconds more - and then he was done, and that the orchestra showed little class or respect to John and to the overall goal: creating music.  

So, on this Labor Day, while I applaud what unions have done in the past and how they've altered the working landscape for us all who continue to work, even if we are not technically "on the clock", I wonder how relevant unions still are, how altruistic to their members they are, and how much longer the working people will really "need" them.

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