From the ground up


It is not needed nor fitting here that a general argument should be made in favor of popular institutions, but there is one point, with its connections, not so hackneyed as most others, to which I ask a brief attention. It is the effort to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above, labor in the structure of government. It is assumed that labor is available only in connection with capital; that nobody labors unless somebody else, owning capital, somehow by the use of it induces him to labor. This assumed, it is next considered whether it is best that capital shall hire laborers, and thus induce them to work by their own consent, or buy them and drive them to it without their consent. Having proceeded so far, it is naturally concluded that all laborers are either hired laborers or what we call slaves. And further, it is assumed that whoever is once a hired laborer is fixed in that condition for life.

Now there is no such relation between capital and labor as assumed, nor is there any such thing as a free man being fixed for life in the condition of a hired laborer. Both these assumptions are false, and all inferences from them are groundless.

Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights. Nor is it denied that there is, and probably always will be, a relation between labor and capital producing mutual benefits. The error is in assuming that the whole labor of community exists within that relation. A few men own capital, and that few avoid labor themselves, and with their capital hire or buy another few to labor for them. A large majority belong to neither class–neither work for others nor have others working for them.

from Abraham Lincoln’s State of the Union address to Congress December 3, 1861.

There is a concerted attack being conducted on the unions in America, and around the world.  Unions are being blamed by the right and even some on the so-called left for causing or at least contributing to the economic issues in America.  They are being accused of not paying their share of the burden for recovery.  Let us stop and think about these accusations for a couple of moments before we identify them for what they truly are.  No.  Let’s first call them what they are.  These attacks are simply more of the same horse pucky.  They are misdirection.  They are lies.  They are divide and conquer tactics.

To be clear, a trade or Labor Union is “is a continuous association of wage earners for the purpose of maintaining or improving the conditions of their employment” as well defined by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.  In other words, it is an association of people banding together in order to protect and further the cause of the people.  To be against a union is, by definition, to be against yourself and your fellow people.  This is not a difficult logical process.

Some object to the associations, true and alleged, between the unions and organized crime.  Organized crime exists everywhere, because of laws that have been passed not because of Unions.  Organized crime took up residence in some parts of Unions because there was a way to make and move money and goods.  Not because of the Unions themselves.  To blame the Unions, is like blaming milk for cows.

Some object to the benefits that Unions have gained for their members out of jealousy for one’s self.  However, as was pointed out by my ever wise father in a different context, in this capitalist system, the real “culprit”, if there is to be one, for any over-extension of union power is the business management for yielding to those demands.  Is that not how the system works?  Both sides sit at the negotiating table and come to an agreement, then both sides are expected to live up to the terms of that agreement.  Okay.  So, the Unions argued for their side, and then they lived up to their end of the agreement.  If the management failed, and they surely have with unfunded liabilities, and other issues, then who is to blame?  The Unions?  Certainly not!  But, that is what the right wing would have you believe.

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About Just Torch

Author of the SCIAMAGE column a space devoted to American political and social commentary and analysis. It is unabashedly liberal, but makes every effort to present clear, verifiable facts and sound reasoning. It also makes a commitment to clearly distinguish between facts and opinions. View all posts by Just Torch

2 responses to “From the ground up

  • Shawn Harrison

    Another argument against unions, that I have heard, is that they drive US companies overseas for cheaper labor, because they don’t want to deal with them. Torch, have you heard that argument? – Shawn

    • Just Torch

      Yes. These are more of the same lies. The “reason” the Unions drive US companies overseas for cheaper labor is because they demand reasonable wages for US workers. Flip it around and restate the argument. What they are really saying is, because companies don’t want to pay American workers a decent wage we’re going to go pay other workers in other parts of the world lower wages, and that is the fault of the Unions. That is not only, not true, but it is an attack on the people again.

      True, lower wages are a part of the reason that companies take jobs elsewhere. Part of the reason also is fewer regulations on environmental protections. There are also other reasons. But, what happens if we take those things away? Does life improve here or in those other places around the world? Do the jobs come back? No, not likely. And, if they do, do the wages at which they come back allow for a decent living standard or would the American worker be expected to lower their standard of living to the same standard that we look down our nose at in those other places around the world?

      That argument, Shawn, is simply ridiculous lies spread by the same people who would sell you a wooden bucket of horse manure and tell you it was a silver soup tureen full of the finest soup on the planet.

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