Ironworkers Local 8

I was reading about the protests in Wisconsin, and I saw this photo. The gentleman on the left is a member of Iron Workers Local 8. That number made me stop and think. That number has meaning to me, because I know the history of labor unions in this country. It means nothing to conservative pundits or the vapid giggling morons who comprise the brain trust on Morning Joe, and it means nothing to the Governor of Wisconsin, but it resonates with me.

Eight is a low number. It’s a low number because that local was chartered a long time ago.

How long? This long:

Our official celebration was based on the charter issued by the International Association of Bridge and Structural Ironworkers of America on February 1, 1901 to the Housesmiths and Bridgemen’s Local Union No. 8 of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Although the words “Housesmith’s and Bridgemen’s” were dropped long ago, that charter still hangs proudly in the board room of Local 8’s office in Milwaukee.

If you go to that local’s site, you’ll read this:

“Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor and could not have existed had not labor first existed. Labor is the superior of capital and deserves much the higher consideration.”
-Abraham Lincoln

This is the dictionary definition of collective bargaining:

Method whereby representatives of employees (unions) and employers negotiate the conditions of employment, normally resulting in a written contract setting forth the wages, hours, and other conditions to be observed for a stipulated period (e.g., 3 years). The term also applies to union-management dealings during the term of the agreement.

The phrase collective bargaining has a much larger meaning than “benefits”, and to watch Scott Walker with his vacant ideologue’s stare reciting bullet points over and over is to realize he has no idea what it means.

It means workers have a seat at the table. It’s a simple idea but it’s incredibly powerful. That’s what they’re defending.

Tens of thousands of people don’t get off their couch and camp out in a capitol building because of a dispute over paying 15% towards health insurance or paying 20%. Conservatives and their media allies would like to convince us they do, they’d like to convince us that this is about budget numbers or contract terms or benefits, but it isn’t.

Scott Walker is threatening to take away something very valuable. He’s telling them two things: your long labor history doesn’t matter, and you haven’t earned a seat at the table. They know better than that.

President Obama used the word “assault” because it’s accurate, within the history and context of labor unions. If you’re a person who is willfully or lazily pig-ignorant of that history, or a person who believes this country began with the election of Ronald Reagan, you’ll miss that, and you’ll start reciting deficit numbers and health insurance co-pays of union members as compared to non-union employees. But if you do that, you’ll be missing the point.

Negotiation is to unions what diplomacy is to nations. It’s what they work like hell at before they fail, and go to war. Union members aren’t proud of their ability to stop working and strike. Any idiot can start a war. A strike means negotiations failed. They’re proud of their ability to negotiate. They’re proud of that fact that they’re sitting in a hard-won seat at the table, and dealing as equals with the other representatives sitting at that table.

Scott Walker wouldn’t sit down with them. He denied them their history and the hard-won agency and dignity that comes with a seat at the table and in doing so threatened something much more valuable than wages or benefits. He refused to use diplomacy; refused to grant them the respect that dealing with them as equals confers, and went right to war. They know that. It’s why they turned out. President Obama chooses words very carefully. He knows it too.

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115 replies
  1. 1
    Mary G says:

    That is the most passionate and heartfelt thing I’ve read about this entire situation in Wisconsin, etc., or indeed about unions in general for years.

    Thanks. Sometimes I look at my brother, who was a teacher and retired with a pension of $86K, and myself, who worked for an anti-union corporation which phased out defined benefit contributions a while ago, and is considerate enough to grant me $1K a month with no increase ever, and I kind of understand why people are pissed off. But you’ve reminded me of what matters.

  2. 2
    Loneoak says:

    Righteous post.

  3. 3
    jwb says:

    “President Obama chooses words very carefully. He knows it too.” I have to think that he chose to make a statement about the situation in Wisconsin because he thinks what is happening there is politically useful to the Democrats and his political future. I also think the fact that he made this statement means that he thinks they can win this.

  4. 4
    rikyrah says:

    this is so righteous.

    this is wonderful bitchslap of the Sullivan’s of the world. The flippant attitude of DDish towards the basicness of this has infuriated me.

    I am going to have to post this elsewhere. thank you.

  5. 5
    morzer says:

    The unions are the real Americans here, as opposed to the Greedy Old Party and their Coalition of the Shilling.

    Excellent post.

  6. 6
    MattR says:

    @Mary G:

    Sometimes I look at my brother, who was a teacher and retired with a pension of $86K, and myself, who worked for an anti-union corporation which phased out defined benefit contributions a while ago, and is considerate enough to grant me $1K a month with no increase ever, and I kind of understand why people are pissed off. But you’ve reminded me of what matters

    People have good reason to be pissed off. Unfortunately, too much of that anger is focused on the workers who have not yet been screwed over by their employer, rather than all the employers who screwed over the rest of the workers.

  7. 7
    Cat Lady says:

    Awesome post Kay. It really does feel like Wisconsin is where the battle is joined. The monetary concessions have been offered already but that wasn’t the point of Walker’s bill, and the media has yet to explore that – I’m not entirely sure it’s deliberate as opposed to the inability to explain it as you have. Don’t a lot of media workers belong to unions?

  8. 8
    mellowjohn says:

    fwiw, i’m a proud member of the american federation of teachers local #1 – the chicago teachers union.

  9. 9
    Citizen_X says:

    Here’s support from Egypt (h/t to Ana Gama, in an earlier thread).

    No unions–no democracy. It’s that simple.

  10. 10
    jwb says:

    @Mary G: I actually don’t understand why people are pissed at unions for negotiating decent benefits and working conditions. Why does the anger flow toward the unions rather than the owners and managers who slash benefits and worsen working conditions where unions aren’t there to protect the workers’ rights? Certainly, unions aren’t the answer to every labor problem we have, but at the moment almost every worker would be better off if we had stronger unions in the country.

  11. 11
    Napoleon says:

    Honest Abe proves he is a RINO with that quote.

    My dad was in a white collar public worker’s union, serving as an officer for a while, and my grandfathers and several uncles in blue collar unions for steelworkers and railroad men and I am proud of it. The single most important thing the Dems can do for working people is to make it easy for them to organize if that is what they want.

  12. 12
    WyldPirate says:

    Thanks for that post, Kay.

    In my opinion, it is one of the best post’s I’ve ever read on BJ.

  13. 13
    JordanRules says:

    Excellent Kay.

    So much was powerfully conveyed in this righteous nugget.

  14. 14
    kay says:

    @jwb:

    I don’t know how it plays politically, and I suspect Obama doesn’t either. I don’t think it’s at all a slam-dunk, and conservatives and liberals know it. In a way, though, I feel as if it was inevitable that this basic difference come to light, so I’m fatalistic.
    I do appreciate you taking over my usual delusional optimist role, however :)

  15. 15
    Uloborus says:

    @jwb:
    Other people’s happiness or suffering is of no importance to the conservative mind. I mean, I hate to say something that sounds so hyperbolic, but it is the basis of their current philosophy. They have an ideal, usually picked either so they’ll have a scapegoat to hate or to benefit themselves, and that’s it. The effect it has on people is just… immaterial.

    And what’s even more grotesque is when you throw in the IOKIYAR aspect. The ideals that everyone else has to suffer for of course don’t apply to themselves. That particular part of the mindset is so deeply ingrained that they often can’t see when they’re shooting themselves in the foot. OF COURSE they’re special and won’t need government insurance subsidies or an abortion doctor available or defense in court from overreaching law enforcement. If they do need these things an exception will obviously be made because they deserve one.

  16. 16
    unabogie says:

    My mom is retired LAUSD. She has her health care covered and gets a few thousand a month in pension. After 40 years teaching our kids for low pay, at least she doesn’t have to worry about money in her 80’s And this is bad how??

  17. 17
    gbear says:

    jezuz, The Uptake is playing tape of the teabagger rally in Madison and the song that they played in between speakers was ‘Sweet Home Alabama’.

  18. 18
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @jwb There’s a toady gene, is my guess — and it’s dominant, not recessive. There are plenty of people out there content to tug forelocks, happy to live under my Lord Jamie Dimon’s noblesse oblige — enough to win elections pretty reliably.

    The ancien regime was massively unfair — and very durable.

  19. 19

    It’s all social darwinism. Great post, Kay.

  20. 20
    RinaX says:

    @jwb:

    Mary G illustrates just how effective the propaganda has been against unions. I agree that instead of resenting her brother, someone who probably worked hard all his life and quite frankly earned that pension, she should be wondering why her own company won’t provide that same benefits for her. Companies did do that until they stopped looking at their employees as people instead of dollars to be eliminated from the bottom line.

  21. 21
    jwb says:

    @kay: I’m not sure. I found it curious that he chose to say anything at this point, and he measured his words very carefully I think to draw attention to what is going on without drawing attention away from it, which is a very hard thing for a president to do. But I really don’t think he would have said anything if he didn’t believe this has real potential to be a political game changer. Whether it will ultimately pan out—that will be determined by how well we can keep ourselves organized and whether we can figure out a way to build from this.

  22. 22
    kay says:

    @Mary G:

    to grant me $1K a month

    I think that’s the difference, Mary. They granted you….

  23. 23
    Martha says:

    @jwb: This.

    And thank you Kay. This is a great post that lays out the fundamental issues that motivate those of us who aren’t union members to support their cause.

    I wish more media types would ask the cons and tea lovers why they are so willing to give up their dreams for healthcare and retirement. You rarely get something unless you ask for it; that is what unions do, they ask. Stop being sheep people.

  24. 24
    kay says:

    @jwb:

    I don’t know, either. I was mostly kidding, because I seem to be the one here who is always claiming everything is fine, so you were in that role :)
    I think it could easily backfire, but it’s no fun without a little risk, right?

  25. 25
    trizzlor says:

    So you’re saying this is about fundamental liberties and maintaining the vision put forth by the early founders of our country?

  26. 26
    JW says:

    Scott Walker is the face of the GOP. I hope that there isn’t blood on the streets over this: I do not believe that the people will back down.

  27. 27

    A comment over at my blog, on my post about how Glenn Beck is in a union:

    There’s a difference between government unions and telecommunications unions. Government unions are relatively new things; even FDR, the Progressive Hero, argued against the formation of government unions.
    __
    I think to be in the broadcasting business, union membership is a necessity. If unions had their way, every employee would be in one, without exception; monies taken from their paychecks and given to the Democrat Party.
    __
    We need to break the unholy alliance between unions and Democrats. To break that bond would be a positive for democracy. You know that, but being a far-left ideologue, you can’t afford to admit it to yourself even if you were in a locked closet.

    So they’re even admitting this is about political power. It’s not about the budget, or fiscal austerity, or teachers. It’s about power.

    And I have to wonder what kind of idiots would willfully give up the power of the many (in the form of collective bargaining) to the few wealthiest individuals in the country (the Koch Brothers, for example). What kind of moron willfully gives up their power?

    And what kind of moron listens to this kind of moron?

  28. 28
    Uloborus says:

    @trizzlor:
    No, she’s not. She’s saying that this is an enormous attack on the system average people have used to obtain fair treatment in our society.

    However, those arguments ALSO apply.

  29. 29
    JordanRules says:

    @JW: They can’t back down which means more of us will have to step up.

  30. 30
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @Martha:

    why they are so willing to give up their dreams for health care and retirement.


    Asked and answered.
    They derive more pleasure, more actual pleasure, and personal fulfillment, from seeing others go without provision than in providing for themselves, even unto their own deaths and the deaths of their loved ones. That they can feel now, intensely. The rest is all tomorrow’s problem.

  31. 31
    kay says:

    @Southern Beale:

    I don’t know the answer to that either, but I saw Beck’s ratings are tanking. So much for enduring ideas.

    When Glenn Beck or the Koch-invented “Tea Party” have been around as long as the Iron Workers, they can start lecturing me about history.

    Get back to me in a hundred years, Mr. Beck.

  32. 32
    Loneoak says:

    @Uloborus:

    They have an ideal, usually picked either so they’ll have a scapegoat to hate or to benefit themselves, and that’s it. The effect it has on people is just… immaterial.

    Which is a reasonable definition of all 20th Century ideologies.

  33. 33
    jwb says:

    @RinaX: Yes, I know. I have several colleagues who prefer to get angry at other colleagues for having better contracts rather than getting angry at the employer for not adequately or fairly recognizing and compensating their contributions. I’ll accede to the unfairness, but it’s never made any sense to me to mad at the colleague for effective negotiation, and I can only think that the anger at the colleague is actually displaced anger at themselves for allowing the system to exploit them thus. But the benefit of such rancor and division flows to the employer.

  34. 34
    Mary G says:

    @jwb: It’s not pretty, but it’s human nature to be upset when your expectations don’t come true. When we started out, I had the much better deal, gold-plated medical insurance, dental, life insurance, awesome pension, company car, expense account, higher salary. He had to take his kids to Kaiser and buy things for his classroom out of his own pocket (I helped).

    Then drip, drip, drip, we started losing it. Medical co-pays went up, first just a little, then a lot. Company car taken away. Raises frozen. Theoretically we still had an expense account but you knew better than to use it. Working 80 hours a week and kissing up to the jerk who’s your boss because you’re terrified they will lay you off.
    Meanwhile my bro got raise after raise. At one point his co-pay for generic drugs was $2 while mine was $40.

    Now he has a second house on an island with 50 feet of beachfront and I don’t go to the movies. (He helps me now, too.) I understand intellectually why and how this happened, but there’s a little lizard brain inner child who wants to kick and scream that it’s not fair to change the rules in the middle of the game. That should have been me!

    That’s what we’re fighting against and it fuels the tea party. It’s not logical and not rational and you can’t fight it with facts. Kay’s post has facts but also the emotional weight of justice that impacts more than just “Unions are good” talk does.

  35. 35
    Nick says:

    President Obama used the word “assault” because it’s accurate

    How long before we hear President Obama is really a union-hating corporate hack because he won’t go to Madison and join the protest himself?

  36. 36
    Cat Lady says:

    @jwb:

    But the benefit of such rancor and division flows to the employer.

    No one could have predicted that divide and conquer would be used as a management strategy.

  37. 37
    ellie says:

    My father was an IBEW member for 38 years. He died in 1998 and my mom still receives his benefits, including heath care, from his union.

  38. 38
    geg6 says:

    Awesome post. Just awesome.

    FWIW, my grandfather was instrumental in getting USW 1211 started at J&l Aliquippa Works in the 1930s. I have an old photo of him with blood running down his face from where management thugs beat him to try to stop them. It has a place of honor with my fav family photos on my bookshelf.

  39. 39
    jwb says:

    @Southern Beale: The point of your commenter might make sense if most political systems didn’t break down into parties supporting workers and those supporting capital.

  40. 40
    Davis X. Machina says:

    There’s also an existential angle. Solidarity comes with a price — admitting contingency.

    When you need others, in solidarity, to band together in defense, to exert countervailing force, against management and the forces of capital, to obtain a decent life, to keep an un-owned self, then you’re not omnipotent. You’re not master of your fate. You’re not in control of your destiny. Not by yourself, anyway.

    Some folks, especially men, don’t want to face that fact.

    It puts the lie to a great American myth. And it’s a reminder that at the end of the day, we’re all really, really contingent — we die. Americans don’t deal with that well, either.

  41. 41
    jwb says:

    @Cat Lady: Agreed. But the funny thing is that in this case the employer doesn’t do anything. The workers do it all on their own. Presumably, these feelings of resentment are being modeled somewhere and the resentful workers are drawing on those models, but in this case the employer certainly doesn’t go out of the way to sow dissension.

  42. 42
    Lolis says:

    Thank you for writing this. I recently joined the Texas State Employees Union even though it is against the law for us to collectively bargain. I felt the need to fight back in some way and have my voice be heard.

  43. 43
    Arclite says:

    Hey Kay,

    Thanks for all the posts lately. It’s really great that BJ has an expert like you to post stories like this during this critical phase in our nation’s history. It’s great to go to places like Sully’s blog and read about Bahrain (and I’m pissed at Sully for so cavalierly explaining away why he won’t cover it, but what did I expect?), but I am American middle class, and this is much more relevant to my life.

  44. 44
    debbie says:

    I find myself getting angry whenever I think about the past abuses by union leadership (in isolated cases) that gave opponents the kind of traction they have today. But all talk of wages and pensions aside, I can’t imagine what the working conditions would be like in this country if the unions hadn’t come along.

    @ Southern Beale:

    And what kind of moron listens to this kind of moron?

    Fewer, actually, than a year ago. Frank Rich wrote this morning that Beck’s audience had declined by 39% over the past year, and for the 25-50 (approx.) demographic, it’s dropped by almost 50%. This is the happiest I’ve been in a long time.

  45. 45
    bemused says:

    Walker claims that Wisconsinites strongly support his budget, cough Koch bros. I don’t remember seeing or reading about any WI Walker supporters in Madison all week. When the Koch heads were bussed in on Sat, there were only 2,000 or so. Where have all those Walker voters been?
    I have read that a few, usually gov’t workers, who voted for Walker are having some buyers’ remorse now. What did they expect!? If they had done just a little bit of research before voting they wouldn’t be surprised at all now. For crying out loud, people do more research before buying a frying pan.

  46. 46
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @Nick: An hour ago. You’re too late.

  47. 47
    J. Michael Neal says:

    I was a Teamster for a while when I worked in a maintenance shop in a warehouse. My only direct dealings with them were when they filed a grievance to get me fired. There was a round of layoffs, and the union filed a grievance to the effect that I should have been laid off instead of someone else who had more seniority, but was also a clueless jackass with no experience in maintenance. The union won and I was out of a job.

    So, I think there are some very real problems with the ways that unions negotiate contracts. Some of the complaints people make about them are dead on accurate. I’d have an easier time rooting for them if they spent less time fighting for ridiculous workplace rules and more time fighting for better wages.

    That said, I do still root for them and think that their decline is a serious problem for the country. However, if I had been out of work for an extended period of time in that instance, I probably would feel less generous about them.

  48. 48
    PurpleGirl says:

    @Southern Beale: Because he’s a rugged individualist; he can negotiate with him employer himself and get what he wants, because…. I don’t know why. But he’s convinced that he has the power and is so valuable his employer has to employ him.

  49. 49
    Martin says:

    @Nick: Oh, Ed covered that territory quite prominently on his show last week.

  50. 50
    MsSkwEsq says:

    Wonderful post. My roots are Midwestern. I grew up in Chicago the youngest daughter of a DuPaul U. Graduate father who owned a small steel processing company. His father, born in Ireland in 1892, grew up on a farm in Wisconsin. He moved to Chicago and was plumber and union organizer. He went on to be one of the first leaders of the plumbers union. I grew up listening to stories of the fight for unions – it was a bloody, violent battle. My dad and his sibs told a story of the day a car slowed past their home on Chicago’s west side, spraying bullets in hopes of killing their father for his union organizing. My grandfather then packed up his five kids and drove them to Wisconsin to stay on the farm for safety. He went back to union organizing. He was successful, hard working and managed to put his three sons and two daughters through college in the 1930-40’s. I come from a family of loyal democrats and union workers. Many of my cousins and now nieces/nephews are teachers. Three of them teach in Milwaukee. Lots of my friends and family are government workers as university profs, scientists, admininstrators, etc – all in unions. I stand with them!

  51. 51
    Napoleon says:

    @geg6: Were they part of the “Little Steel Strike”? My grandpa was in that one.

  52. 52
    RinaX says:

    @Nick:

    You’re late to the party. I’ve been reading those type of comments on other blogs since Tuesday.

  53. 53
    HRA says:

    Superb post, Kay.

    I’d like to say more and don’t know where to start except to say everyone should find literature to read about how it was before we had unions to protect us.

  54. 54
    Martin says:

    @J. Michael Neal:

    So, I think there are some very real problems with the ways that unions negotiate contracts. Some of the complaints people make about them are dead on accurate. I’d have an easier time rooting for them if they spent less time fighting for ridiculous workplace rules and more time fighting for better wages.

    Yeah, I’ve had similar stupid dealings. Being blocked by the union from promoting my staff because it would promote them out of the union, claiming I was only doing it to get them out of the union. I was doing it so I could ask them to do more and pay them more for the effort – radical, I know.

    But in spite of all the stupid union efforts that I’ve seen, the right to unionize needs to be preserved. It’s critical, especially if we’re going to tolerate larger and more powerful corporations.

  55. 55

    @Martin and @J. Michael Neal:

    Yeah, I’ve had similar stupid dealings. Being blocked by the union from promoting my staff because it would promote them out of the union, claiming I was only doing it to get them out of the union. I was doing it so I could ask them to do more and pay them more for the effort – radical, I know.

    People seem to sometimes forget that most of these workplace rules came about for reasons – often very good reasons.

    While it sucked that JMN was pushed out for seniority, it’s instructive to remember that people with seniority are getting dicked over all over the private sector because they have … wait for it, seniority.

  56. 56
    RinaX says:

    @Mary G:

    I understand intellectually why and how this happened, but there’s a little lizard brain inner child who wants to kick and scream that it’s not fair to change the rules in the middle of the game.

    Mary G, I do appreciate your honesty, so hopefully you don’t think I’m picking on you. But that part of your quote is the entire problem. Corporations changed the rules over the past few decades. I watched it happen to my mother throughout the 90’s, going from having a guaranteed pension, great insurance, etc, to having said pension cut off and her division sold to a different company that offered them pretty much nothing but a 401K and insurance with higher and higher premiums. My father, a union member (bus driver), still has everything he signed up for, though now their union is going through drama with the city.

    Until people get past the “lizard brain” thinking as you describe it and band together in a non-party line way with regards to what companies have been doing to American workers for so long, we’re going to continue to be at their mercy.

  57. 57
    jwb says:

    @bemused: Well, sometimes you have to get whopped upside the head by that frying pan before you start paying attention. In 2010, those of the inattentive middle who voted (and who largely decide elections) were basically registering their economic discontent: they said they didn’t like the economic status quo, and really who could blame them? Yes, Walker was running on an idiot economic platform that he is now implementing so no one should be able to claim ignorance, but in a bad situation the temptation to pull the lever for “anything has got to be better than this” is strong. We can only hope that Walker’s overreach and the unions’ response are sufficient to change enough of that inattentive middle into attentive voters that this won’t happen again for a number of years. History, however, suggests otherwise.

  58. 58
    mlk says:

    Thank you Kay. I ranted at my husband about this this morning. But not as eloquently.

  59. 59
    Davis X. Machina says:

    You can reliably get a defense out of most Americans of their adversarial judicial system, where your lawyer and their lawyer are each obligated to fight it out as hard as they can on behalf of their clients, within the ambit of the law, with the underlying supposition that the truth will be found in the resulting clash.

    With labor, and management, and an equally adversarial system, not so much.

    It’s sad when unions lose out to lawyers in a popularity contest.

  60. 60
    El Cid says:

    A Republican governor who over a century ago tried to protect the state against lazy union thugs who wanted an 8-hour workday.

    From the Wisconsin Labor History Society’s web page.

    Bay View Tragedy
    __
    Wisconsin’s most historic and bloody labor incident occurred on May 5, 1886 on the shores of Lake Michigan in the Bay View area of Milwaukee.
    __
    That day dawned after four days of massive worker demonstrations throughout Milwaukee on behalf of the creation of eight-hour day laws. As some 1,500 workers marched toward the Bay View Rolling Mills (then the area’s biggest manufacturer) urging the workers thereto join the marches, the State Militia lined up on a hill, guns poised. The marchers were ordered t o stop form some 200 yards away; when they didn’t, the militiamen fired into the crowd, killing seven persons. The marchers dispersed and the eight-hour days marches ended.
    __
    The incident, in spite of its immediate end to eight-hour day efforts, spurred workers and their families to look forward to build a more progressive society in Milwaukee and Wisconsin.

    Also known as the Bay View Massacre.

    The Bay View Massacre (sometimes also referred to as the Bay View Tragedy) was the culmination of events that began on Saturday May 1, 1886 when 7,000 building-trades workers joined with 5,000 Polish laborers who had organized at St. Stanislaus Catholic Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to strike against their employers, demanding an eight-hour work day.
    __
    By Monday, these numbers had increased to over 14,000 workers that gathered at the Milwaukee Iron Company rolling mill in Bay View. They were met by 250 National Guardsmen under order from Republican Governor Jeremiah M. Rusk to “shoot to kill” any strikers who attempted to enter.
    __
    Workers camped in the nearby fields and the Kosciuszko Militia arrived by May 4. Early the next day the crowd, which by this time contained children, approached the mill and were fired upon. Seven people died as a result, including a thirteen-year-old boy.[1] Several more were injured during the protest.
    __
    Since 1986, members of the Bay View Historical Society, the Wisconsin Labor History Society, and other community groups have held a commemorative event to honor the memories of those killed during the incident. The event is held at the State Historical Marker site at the intersection of Superior Street and Russell Avenue, within view of the former rolling mill location.

    Bay View voters in response elected soshullist mayors and county governments for decades.

  61. 61
    jwb says:

    @Davis X. Machina: And it would be utterly stupid of Obama to inject himself into this fight in a large way at this point. It sounds like he’s deployed OfA to help with logistics, and that’s exactly how he should be helping.

  62. 62
    passerby says:

    Tell it, Kay!

    A masterful perspective. Very nice.

    [APPLAUSE]

  63. 63
    PurpleGirl says:

    My father was a member of IBEW (NY Local #3). He joined when the electrical construction firm he worked for was organized. The company did maintenance work, not new construction installations. At some point, the Union had my father take some classes to upgrade his skills. Afterward the Union wanted to raise his rank which would have meant a higher salary and benefits. His employer was not happy about the increased cost of my father… UNTIL he realized that if my father had an “A” class rank, he (the owner) could now bid on new construction work. New construction work meant higher charges and fees for him. Paying my father more meant he could make more.

  64. 64
    jwb says:

    @J. Michael Neal: I don’t think anyone thinks unions are anything like a perfect tool. Yet, even in your experience, it’s hard to see how the union might have been organized such that it would not lead to these sorts of problems. Rules by nature will often have capricious effects (as you experienced), but in the absence of such rules you’d simply be turning the union leadership into a proxy for management (and unions tend to descend into cronyism when the rules are not strictly defined).

  65. 65
    piratedan says:

    @arguingwithsignposts: boy does that strike close to home. 18 years in with my former employer, was let go because I was “too expensive” to keep around and they could replace me with someone cheaper. Not more efficient, not more qualified, just cheaper. Naturally I live in a right to work state, at least I got a severance package, those staffers that were similarly ‘reduced” six months later weren’t as lucky.

  66. 66
    Cat Lady says:

    @J. Michael Neal:

    from kay’s link:

    With all their faults, trade-unions have done more for humanity
    than any other organization of men that ever existed.
    They have done more for decency, for honesty, for education,
    for the betterment of the race, for the developing of character in man,
    than any other association of men.”

    -Clarence Darrow
    The Railroad Trainman (Nov. 1909)

    Emphasis mine. No collective endeavor will ever be good for every person in the collective.

  67. 67
    bemused says:

    @jwb:
    That happened here on the Iron Range, people po-ed at Oberstar acting like he hadn’t done a thing in the last 10 years except fund those commie bike trails, some that had always voted Dem. One was a relative in her late 50’s who is getting social security because of an illness and just got a mouthful of new teeth free, thanks to another commie program.
    It’s just so damn exasperating.

  68. 68
    magisterludi says:

    I just want to add that, Kay, you are a wonderful writer. I always appreciate the clarity in your use of language.

  69. 69
    J. Michael Neal says:

    @arguingwithsignposts:

    While it sucked that JMN was pushed out for seniority, it’s instructive to remember that people with seniority are getting dicked over all over the private sector because they have … wait for it, seniority.

    Apparently, you missed my point. The problem wasn’t that I got pushed out in favor of someone with seniority. The problem was that I got pushed out by someone with seniority and NO FUCKING CLUE WHAT HE WAS DOING. The Teamsters simply didn’t care about whether or not he could do the job I had been doing.

    I’m on your side, but you have demonstrated one of the big problems in trying to keep public sentiment on the side of the unions. There are a lot of people who have experiences like mine, and most of them, unlike myself, turn against unions because the unions are so useless for them. If you can’t even bring yourself to just say that these sort of things are a very real problem, you will never win back the sentiment of a lot of people, and the unions will go down in flames.

  70. 70
    J. Michael Neal says:

    @jwb:

    Yet, even in your experience, it’s hard to see how the union might have been organized such that it would not lead to these sorts of problems.

    I don’t think it’s hard at all. Make the ability to do the job in question a part of the criteria. That’s not so very hard.

    As I said, if you don’t take these sorts of things seriously, you will lose the hearts and minds of a lot of the people we need.

  71. 71

    @J. Michael Neal:

    If you can’t even bring yourself to just say that these sort of things are a very real problem, you will never win back the sentiment of a lot of people, and the unions will go down in flames.

    who said they weren’t a problem. I think others have responded to your point as well re: capriciousness of rules. I’ve known slackabouts in union shops and slackabouts in non-union shops. So until we can solve for human nature, it’s not all union fault.

  72. 72

    @J. Michael Neal:

    I don’t think it’s hard at all. Make the ability to do the job in question a part of the criteria. That’s not so very hard.

    And again, human nature isn’t just a union problem, JMN.

  73. 73
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @J. Michael Neal: Why does that union have the retention and promotion system that it does? Is it decided at the local level? How easy is it to get a seat on the board of the local? Who is on that board?

    Any collective exercise suffers, at least potentially, and usually actually, from the same problems. Government, unions, the local civic symphony…..

  74. 74
    agrippa says:

    Excellent post.

  75. 75
    Linnaeus says:

    I’m a staunch unionist, and I’m perfectly willing to admit that unions as institutions are imperfect, because they are created and operated by human beings. If union leaders make a mistake, do something wrong, etc., that should be pointed out and remedied.

    But my local also has mechanisms to address these problems; even these mechanisms don’t work perfectly, but they’re more effective than trying to address the imperfections of our employer.

  76. 76
    Three-nineteen says:

    @J. Michael Neal: OK, I’m deleting this because I made an accusation I can’t back up. Suffice it to say that favoritism and promoting/retaining unqualified employees is not just a union problem.

  77. 77
    J. Michael Neal says:

    I give up. I was, and still am, that I paid dues to the Teamsters, and all I got for them was to be fired in favor of someone incompetent. Martin is the only one here who was able to respond by saying something along the lines of, “That’s a problem, and we really need to make sure to work to keep it from happening.”

    The rest of you are all giving excuses. Yes, it’s human nature. Yes, there’s a collective action problem. But if that’s the only response you can give, we will lose this fight. Take the fucking problem seriously, or be prepared to get reamed. People who are angry about being fucked over by their union aren’t interested in your rationalizations, and if you can’t bring yourselves to provide anything else, you’re beyond clueless.

  78. 78
    jwb says:

    @J. Michael Neal: A change in the rule might solve your particular case, but who is going to decide what skills qualify a person for the job? And every new rule or exception that you introduce increases the size of the rule book and makes adjudicating cases more difficult and the need for a larger union administration. You can also turn the question around: that guy with the seniority who gets fired instead of you will then start bitching about how the union let some guy with 20 years less experience than he has continue to work despite all the years he has given to the union and don’t those years count for anything. To him, the situation will seem every bit as capricious, and the union will still suck. My sense is that it is for this reason (people are always going to be unhappy when they lose their job) that unions tend to go with the simplest set of rules possible and that seniority tends to be the dominant rule because those with seniority are actually the most vulnerable.

  79. 79
    Corner Stone says:

    @J. Michael Neal: The bad joss? It surrounds you.

  80. 80
    PurpleGirl says:

    J. Michael Neal: What kind of test or criteria do you think should have been used to choose the person to get laid off?

  81. 81
    Church Lady says:

    I’m not sure how this will play out, but I think that Walker is probably going to win this one. 2010 saw a dramatic change in the way Wisconsin voted, with Republicans taking the Governor’s mansion and both houses of the Legislature, by pretty large margins. Walker didn’t hide what he wanted to do; he campaigned on it and now he feels like he is doing what he promised to do.

    Are the proposed changes particularly fair to the Unions? Probably not. But they are also not particularly onerous either. This economy hasn’t been fair to anyone, public or private sector. Even with the economic cuts, they public sector workers are still ahead of almost all private sector workers as far as benefits go. How many of people here at BJ that work in the private sector only pay 12% of their insurance premium? How many of you ever got a pension plan that you didn’t have to pay anything into? How many of you are required to pay less than 6% into your pension plan? Heck, how many of you have a defined benefit plan? I’ve worked since 1983, and I never had a defined benefit plan. Everywhere I’ve ever worked, including my own business, it’s been a defined contribution plan. I’d guess that very few of us working in the private sector had benefit plans as generous as what they now have, and even what they would have under the new proposal.

    Walker is not talking about cutting salaries and salaries could still be negotiated under collective bargaining. As to the requirement to re-certify the Union annually, if the Union is a really good thing for the workers, wouldn’t it make sense for those workers to vote in favor of it every year? What is the problem that the Unions have with no longer having dues automatically withheld from members’ paychecks? Once again, if the membership is happy with the Union’s leadership and feels that the Union is really benefiting them, wouldn’t they pay their dues willingly? The only way to cut State budget gaps is to cut spending. Most states have already raised taxes and fees about as much as their citizens can handle.

    Given that the majority of Wisconsin voters work in the private sector and the majority don’t belong to a Union, I have a feeling that the majority support what Walker is doing. Of course, I could be completely wrong.

  82. 82

    @J. Michael Neal:

    People who are angry about being fucked over by their union aren’t interested in your rationalizations, and if you can’t bring yourselves to provide anything else, you’re beyond clueless.

    and what about the people getting fucked over by their managers, JMN? Where’s your fucking solution, man? Seriously.

    You keep thinking your anecdote is data. It’s not.

  83. 83

    @Church Lady:

    This economy hasn’t been fair to anyone, public or private sector.

    Anyone? Really? Fuck off, troll.

  84. 84
    Citizen_X says:

    @Church Lady: Excellent job of missing the entire point of Kay’s post.

  85. 85
    Three-nineteen says:

    @Church Lady:

    Walker is not talking about cutting salaries and salaries could still be negotiated under collective bargaining.

    You haven’t read any of these posts or comments, have you? I told you this in another thread, but I will tell you again: The unions have already agreed to all the budget fixes in the bill. All they want is for Walker to take out the part where he makes collective bargaining ILLEGAL. Walker refuses. Therefore the unions could not negotiate with Walker in the future through collective bargaining if this bill passes, because COLLECTIVE BARGAINING WILL BE ILLEGAL.

  86. 86
    Citizen_X says:

    @Three-nineteen:

    I told you this in another thread

    Seriously? This is the reason why we can’t have nice things, like civility and respect for other’s viewpoints. For Church Lady to so resolutely miss the point, repeatedly, she would have to be either a) a complete moron, or b) a liar. She writes in English, not in Palinoid word salad, so that only leaves b).

    Fuck off, lying-ass troll.

  87. 87
    Origuy says:

    My father is a member of Operating Engineers Local 3. I didn’t know the number had historical significance until now. I looked up the history of IUOE. It was founded in 1896 as the National Union of Steam Engineers, men who worked on the dangerous steam engines that powered the factories of the day.

    The union pension and benefits help him to this day.

  88. 88
    Linnaeus says:

    @J. Michael Neal:

    The rest of you are all giving excuses. Yes, it’s human nature. Yes, there’s a collective action problem. But if that’s the only response you can give, we will lose this fight. Take the fucking problem seriously, or be prepared to get reamed. People who are angry about being fucked over by their union aren’t interested in your rationalizations, and if you can’t bring yourselves to provide anything else, you’re beyond clueless.

    I do take the problem seriously. What I am also saying is that these issues can often be addressed at the local level by members getting more active in their locals and working to change them. The source of these problems can vary from union to union. I have no problem understanding that people are angry when their union representatives don’t serve them properly.

  89. 89
    morzer says:

    Great quote from Adam Smith, by the way:

    We rarely hear, it has been said, of the combination of masters, though frequently of those of workmen. But whoever imagines, upon this account, that masters rarely combine, is as ignorant of the world as of the subject. Masters are always and everywhere in a sort of tacit, but constant and uniform combination, not to raise the wages of labor above their actual rate.

    (Wealth of Nations, Book 1, Chapter 8)

  90. 90
    fashionOfChrist says:

    I’ve never been a union member.

    Not once. Not ever.

    I even disliked unions at one point (like many young IT folks I’ve known).

    Then I woke up, and realized that I have benefited ENORMOUSLY from the hard won fights of my unionized brothers and sisters.

    8 hour work days? Thank a union
    Paid vacation, benefits, 2 days off a week? thank a union.

    No child labor? Thank a union.

    Corporations are not inclined to HAND these things to you. They are in it to please shareholders only. To do anything else would be an act of fiscal malfeasance for a corp exec.
    It’s ALL about the bottom line. It HAS to be.

    Anyone who doesn’t understand the NEED for workers to organize and push for the right to decent pay doesn’t understand even the basic tenents of business and capitalism.

    Anyone who HAS EVER WORKED A DAY IN THEIR LIFE owes unions a big THANK YOU

  91. 91
    fashionOfChrist says:

    @fashionOfChrist:
    s/tenents/tenets

  92. 92
    Napoleon says:

    @fashionOfChrist:

    2 days off a week

    Not just two days off but for most people 2 days in a row. It was not even always that way.

  93. 93
    Triassic Sands says:

    It should come as no surprise that a union local from Wisconsin would be one of the earliest in existence. After all, Wisconsin was one of the birthplaces of true American progressivism. That fact makes it all the more poignant that the current battle is being waged in Wisconsin and all the more depressing that the reason the battle is taking place in Wisconsin is because the people of Wisconsin turned the state over to lunatics lock stock and barrel last November.

    The critical mass of stupidity and selfishness that plagues this country swept through Wisconsin last year.

    Robert LaFollette must have turned over in his grave after what Wisconsinites did on November 2, 2010. Whether Wisconsinites will take a step back from the abyss and stop Walker now remains to be seen.

  94. 94
    eemom says:

    @Triassic Sands:

    the people of Wisconsin turned the state over to lunatics lock stock and barrel last November.

    now that you mention it, how the fuck DID that happen, anyway?

    Did all those people out there demonstrating not VOTE?

  95. 95
    asiangrrlMN says:

    @eemom: Sadly, many of them voted for Walker. Or some. I don’t have the figures. This is why I am beginning to insist that we (on the left) hold the masses to a minimal standard. Yes, it’s hard to get info, but it’s not impossible. And, nothing Walker’s done is out of line with what he said he would do.

    @bemused: And what you said.

    kay, thank you for this post. It really hones in on how important this fight is.

  96. 96
    RalfW says:

    I commend to everyone the new book All Labor Has Dignity which is a compilation of speeches by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., that make clear the linkages between the rights of labor and the rights of people of color. Just came out in Jan 2011, and worth a read. I finished it last week and gave it to my minister, he’s going to lead a book group on it.

    This assault on the right to organize, to freely associate with one another for our mutual benefit and aid is one that cannot, must not be handed away over the bullshit talking points of percentages of wage give-backs or pension contributions. As you said, Kay, that’s negotiation. What Walker is doing (with Koch and Club for Growth help) is destroying the ability of people to associate so that they can even be at the table.

    Crikey.

  97. 97
    Triassic Sands says:

    @eemom:

    Did all those people out there demonstrating not VOTE?

    The number of people protesting is relatively small compared with the number who voted. While it looks great to see tens of thousands of Wisconsinites in the streets of Madison protesting, that doesn’t mean that the majority of residents don’t side with Walker. (American voters are remarkably fickle and don’t hesitate to vote against their own best interests, so I have no idea what percentage of Wisconsinites actually support the protests, oppose Walker, or regret their November votes. My guess is the answer would be depressing.)

    This is an existential threat to Wisconsin’s state employee unions, which is why firefighter and law enforcement unions have joined the protests — they know they’re next, so it shouldn’t be surprising that the Left and unions can turn out tens of thousands of people. But more than a million voted for Walker, and American voters are well-known for being lazy. If Wisconsinites in general cared about the fate of public employee unions, there is nothing to stop crowds of hundreds of thousands assembling. And no estimate I’ve read or seen pegs the numbers anywhere near 100,000.

    This is not meant to criticize any of the people who are protesting, I only wish I could be there to lend my support — more power to them — but there are lots of people who could be protesting who aren’t. For many of them it is simply a matter that either they don’t care or they side with Walker.

    I don’t see Walker backing down. This could be a preview of the Republicans shutting down the US government. As such, I don’t think it is possible to overstate the importance of what is happening in Wisconsin right now.

    Note: I haven’t seen any polling on the protests — either state or national.

  98. 98
    piratedan says:

    @eemom: I’m guessing they got caught up in the usual stuff, Rupublicans stating how they are fiscally responsible and yada yada yada, Democrats are evil…spending your money on supporting muslim terrorists etc etc etc look, look at the black guy and those loose women!

    I wonder if anyone can tell me if Walker campaigned on a platform of gutting the union? All the hyperbolic crap that the right assigns to folks like Olbermann and Maddow and we nod our heads knowingly and believe that there’s no way that they can keep lowering the bar. Yet what they extrapolated on magically comes true when those same “extremists” get into office and start giving money to their galtian overlords and tell the rest of us, sorry there’s no room at the inn, private function only.

    I’ve had arguements with my brother-in-law over this and he keeps voting Republican because he keeps believing that there’s enough “sane” legislators out there to moderate the crazies. Can’t have a Democrat involved because its bad for his business. My biggest worry is that we get to suffer through two years of this crap to numb the American public and won’t have any forum or means to combat this shite.

  99. 99
    Suffern ACE says:

    @piratedan: Well, Johnson ran for Senate and specifically made a point of NOT taking positions on anything at all. I’m wondering if Walker didn’t do the same thing. My guess is that a lot of people thought they were voting for Tommy Thompson, who was also anti-union, but never tried this…

  100. 100
    Ruckus says:

    @arguingwithsignposts:
    Also what would work life be like if we never had unions? What sort of work rules did we have before unions? The answer of course is pretty bad. We had child labor (back soon to Utah and everywhere near you!), there was no overtime pay but plenty of overtime, no safety rules or health care at all.
    Need I go on?

  101. 101
    Uloborus says:

    @eemom: and @Triassic Sands:
    Last I heard ‘they didn’t vote’ was exactly the problem and Dem losses were entirely due to voter turnout, not any change in polling loyalty. Which, unfortunately, was exactly what we were told to expect.

    I admit, I’m lousy at digging up poll results to give you hard numbers. That was just the upshot the last time I heard it discussed by people who DO dig up the numbers.

  102. 102
    El Cid says:

    Public employees tend to have better benefits and other conditions than I do. Not always, but often. And on average.

    Strangely, this doesn’t make me want to take theirs away. It makes me think I’d like my situation better.

    Apparently I’m un-American.

    Like when I hear complaints that prisoners get better health care than the rest of us do, it makes me think that the rest of us deserve better health care, rather than making sure that prisoners suffer more from worse health care.

  103. 103
    sfHeath says:

    Kay, thank you so much for this post. I’ve been very interested in learning labor history for a while now, but time has prevented research; can you recommend a primer?

    In my union, it’s extremely easy to get involved in the decision making process instead of complaining about the problems. In the two or three years I’ve been on a committee, I’ve learned more about my business than in the last twenty years I’ve been in it. And I’ve accomplished real things that are a *real* benefit to my colleagues.

    Thanks for starting us off with an old Woody Guthrie number. I’d like to share another:

    The state soldiers jumped us in a wire fence corners,
    They did not know we had these guns,
    And the Red-neck Miners mowed down these troopers,
    You should have seen those poor boys run.
    ..
    We took some cement and walled that cave up,
    Where you killed these thirteen children inside,
    I said, “God bless the Mine Workers’ Union,”
    And then I hung my head and cried.

  104. 104
    dollared says:

    @eemom: Most Wisconsinites are proud of their Progressive Party heritage. However, they voted for a “jobs” Republican platform, and of course the Catholic Church and all major newspapers tipped the scale shamelessly. The Milwaukee, Madison, Eau Claire and Appleton papers are all run by troglodytes.

    I am watching literally dozens of nominally Republican Facebook friends in Wisconsin join the recall effort. They are complacent people who think Republicanism is about being restrained on taxes and against abortion on demand. They would never consider rolling back the New Deal, which they take for granted. They are learning in real time- and they support their schoolteacher friends.

    There is grounds for hope in all this, and I am awfully glad that Obama put some skin in the game.

  105. 105
    dollared says:

    @Church Lady: Nice. Look in the mirror and say “I spent my day today making up false arguments to advocate making the lives of 600,000 middle class Americans poorer and more insecure. I am just above a mass murderer in moral standing.”

  106. 106
    morzer says:

    @Church Lady:

    So you missed the bit where Walker wants to eliminate collective bargaining?

    Tell me, do your relatives have to keep you on a leash to stop you from wandering down the street and idly cropping the grass in people’s gardens?

  107. 107
    Stillwater says:

    Kay, if your still there (??!..?), one issue in the background of this is the claim (put forward by the ‘thinking’ branch of conservatism) that public sector unions engaging in collective bargaining violates the rights of taxpayers, or unfairly increases tax burdens, or whatever. I think this really deserves a lot of pushback, since its the intellectual underpinning of all the hate. And it’s a friechtard meme that’s running wild lately.

    For example, young Conor recently wrote that the very existence of public sector unions was inconsistent with promoting the general welfare. Jason Kuznicki of Cato (and LOOG) rencently wrote that CB agreements of public sector unions are inconsistent with the rights of taxpayers.

    Problem is, these clever attempts to justify union bashing on principled grounds fail, and (deliberately?) confuse rights conflicts, or general welfare considerations, with pure punishment of folks precisely because they’ve been able to safeguard their livelihoods from the vagaries and capriciousness of the once all-mighty, but now oh-so-lame, market.

  108. 108
    Stillwater says:

    @El Cid: Strangely, this doesn’t make me want to take theirs away.

    El Cid, I know you’re a smart guy, but are you economically rational? Rational in any way? Are you insane? Everyone knows that if you lower the economic situation of those around you, you’ve improved yours. Get to work, brother.

  109. 109
    mkesisu says:

    Kay, thank you for this beautifully written and quite powerful post.
    We cannot, must not back down.
    It matters.

    Proud member of AFT-Wisconsin/The Association of University of Wisconsin Professionals (TAUWP), Local 3535

  110. 110

    @J. Michael Neal:

    Is there any point to this anecdote other than you being a drama queen and trying to get someone to pay attention to you? Yeah, unions have their problems, on the other hand you’re a basketcase who thinks that his anecdote constitutes data. If I worked with you I’d probably be filing a grievance to get your ass fired because your whining is incredibly annoying.

  111. 111
    gelfling545 says:

    I think that it is often overlooked that employers in both private & public sectors offered “benefits” in collective bargaining because 1. it was cheaper than giving actual money and 2. they got something they wanted in return (hence the term “bargain). It was not because they wanted to do something nice for their workers.

  112. 112

    […] Photo/Andy ManisRead more: http://www.kitsapsun.com/photo.....8JKpEtFrom Balloon JuiceIronworkers Local 8by KayI was reading about the protests in Wisconsin, and I saw this photo. The […]

  113. 113
    Sharl says:

    Way late to this party, but J. Michael Neal’s completely sober and thoughtful analysis echoes my lifelong loyal union member (CWA) father’s bitching about his local. His specific complaint was even similar – unquestioning backing by shop stewards and their higher-ups of nonfunctioning employees, instead of negotiating with company management to seek counseling for them, or even agreeing to their firing in the most extreme cases.

    I have no idea how much goodwill is lost on a national scale by such union behavior at various locals, but I’ll wager it’s greater than the blindly Pollyannish pro-union critics of JMN think. I once posed a question about this to Andy Stern over at MyDD (back when Stoller and Bowers were there), but he didn’t see fit to answer me; very disappointing.

    More thoughtful respondents to JMN have provided the obvious though nontrivial solution, and they all call for getting involved yourself in the local you belong to. I wish I had urged my Dad to do so, all those years ago. A union is like any other institution, susceptible to corruption and decay without proper attention. Unfortunately, regular working class folk, often with a lot of duties outside of work, and/or putting in lots of overtime already (as my Dad did back in the day), either cannot or will not take the time to commit to the local. When that happens, everyone loses sooner or later.

  114. 114

    […] a terrific Balloon Juice post on why unions are fundamentally not just about economics but about democracy. Categories commie […]

  115. 115
    Randy Bryce says:

    THANK YOU for the story! I was standing on the other side of that flag that day. I’ll be in Madison tomorrow, and, as long as it takes for the working people to be able to have a voice in their conditions.
    One thing left out of the story is that Ironworkers first organized Unions for a means to provide a decent burial for fellow members. Our job is annually listed among the most dangerous professions in the world.
    We literally build America, and, as a veteran, take great pride in belonging to such a group.
    Thank you again for sharing our story!
    Randy Bryce
    Local 8 Milwaukee

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