Woodworking: Unions: Perceptions, circumstances changeThere’s lots of talk about employee unions these days, what with the recent recall controversy.
By: Dave Wood, columnist, River Falls Journal
There’s lots of talk about employee unions these days, what with the recent recall controversy.
First, I should confess — I was once a union member.
In 1955, I worked at Land O’Lakes in my hometown. I was making $1.12 per hour, time and a half for overtime.
But then the Teamsters came to town, and our plant was unionized.
Suddenly, I was making $1.50 per hour. I was in clover. Well, not clover, but timothy at least.
The raise enabled me to squeak out a college degree, so I’ve never been anti-union.
I taught for many years without benefit of unions. Then I jumped out and went to work for the Star Tribune.
And I swallowed hard and agreed to join the union and pay $60 per month for the privilege.
That sort of rankled me, but when I began aging, I was happy to belong because lots of non-union newspapers dump the old reporters and editors before they can jump on the retirement wagon.
So for me, the $60 per month was well-spent.
I guess that’s not the case for some.
My wife and I canvassed for Tom Barrett in last June’s brouhaha. We were essentially preaching to the choir because we only called on folks who had voted Democratic in previous elections.
Some folks we talked to said they were switching sides, explaining they had worked for Andersen Windows in Bayport, Minn., a non-union shop where they were well-treated.
Everyone has a different story to tell, but that’s not the point of this column. What then, you may ask, is your point?
Just a bit of history, that’s all.
I have a habit of paging through “books of days,” the thick compendiums that record our history day-by-day.
One of my favorite books is “Chronicle of America: From Prehistory to Today,” edited by Clifton Daniel, the editor-husband of Margaret Truman.
When it came out years ago, I gave it a lukewarm review, which elicited a bewildered response from Daniel. I think he was right because I keep going back to his book because there’s so much stuff in it.
So the other day, I looked up 1912, to see what was going on in these United States a century ago.
Lots, it turned out. Oreo cookies. Hellman’s mayo and Life Savers were introduced, the Titanic went down on its maiden voyage, and Zane Grey, an Ohio Dentist wrote “Riders of the Purple Sage.”
On July 18, one hundred years ago today, “Sailors in Seattle raided the local offices of the I.W.W., burning its books and furniture in the street.”
The I.W.W. What was that?
It was the International Workers of the World, a left-wing labor union that we used to read about in history books a half century ago. It was an outfit demonized by the press, but which attracted lots of adherents, like the textile workers in Lawrence, Mass.
Fifty thousand of them went on strike because the manufacturers had lowered their existing salaries by 20%, thinking $8.76 per week was too much for a mere 54-hour work week.
The I.W.W. raised all manner of hell and even convinced Massachusetts to enact a minimum wage law on June 4 of that year.
But then the I.W.W., or “Wobblies” as they were called, pretty much disappeared from the scene and holed up in the history books with “Big Bill” Haywood of the I.W.W.
Imagine my surprise on this 100th anniversary of labor’s foment and the recent failed recall election to read in the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press that the I.W.W. is still around and up to its old antics.
Mainstream unions seldom represent service and hospitality industries. But the I.W.W. does.
After employees of a well-known fast-food chain wanted to join the I.W.W. because the well-known fast-food chain refused them days off when they were ill, several organizers were fired.
Taking a cue from old Bill Haywood and Eugene V. Debs, the modern day “Wobblies” picketed its stores with placards that said stuff like “Would you really want to eat a sandwich made by a guy with Asian flu?”
Pretty effective, right?
And no one seems to demonize them as they did 100 years ago. The Lutheran preacher we listened to year after year when we lived in Minneapolis has a son who is one of the organizers.
“I’m so proud of him, I can’t tell you.” she said when last we met.
Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554.