The American trade union movement has achieved remarkable progress with its fights for fair wages and benefits, for an eight-hour day, for protections against child-labor abuses for pensions for retirees and workplace safety. And the movement’s accomplishments have extended beyond the workplace to the community and the nation as a whole, especially when it has marched on the front lines for civil rights and social justice. Those gains have required sacrifice and struggle, as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. explained when he addressed the AFL-CIO national convention in 1961.
“Our needs are identical with labor’s needs: decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old-age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children, and respect in the community. That is why Negroes support labor’s demands and fight laws which curb labor. That is why the labor-hater and labor-baiter is virtually always a twin-headed creature spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth,” said King. “The duality of interests of labor and Negroes makes any crisis which lacerates you, a crisis from which we bleed. And as we stand on the threshold of the second half of the twentieth century, a crisis confronts us both. Those who in the second half of the nineteenth century could not tolerate organized labor have had a rebirth of power and seek to regain the despotism of that era while retaining the wealth and privileges of the twentieth century.”
So it really has never been easy.
There have always been haters and baiters.
But it does seem now—at a time when unions are under constant assault from bad trade policies, congressional initiatives to undermine the National Labor Relations Board and existing labor law, transparently irresponsible privatization schemes and the “right-to-work” sneak attacks of Republican governors—that the labor haters and labor baiters are upping the volume. And the anti-labor propaganda has gone over the top.
Consider this: In a matter of days, American unions have been reimagined as threats so menacing that simply responding to them prepares an otherwise inexperienced presidential contender to deal with the cruelest global threats. And unions are being blamed for… displacing the Junior Optimist Baseball League
First, there was the bluster and bombast of 2016 Republican presidential prospect Scott Walker, who responded to a question about what he would do as president to stop the advance of Islamic State (ISIS) by saying: “If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world.”