United we stand...united we fall?

Benjamin Chase of the Plainsman
Posted 9/15/23

In this From the Mound, the writer discusses the history of unions in the country and their current status

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United we stand...united we fall?


“Face the pressure now
of our aging, changing world
The battle that surrounds us
Not with you and me”
“United We Stand” — Journey

Journey released the single of “United We Stand” on July 4 of last year, as a prelude to the release of the group’s “Freedom” album that released a handful of days later.

Their spin as a group was that coming out of the pandemic and in the current distanced political environment, we need to come together as people more than ever.

Journey as a group would certainly have some experience at “aging” and “changing” over their career. Journey was formed 50 years ago, in 1973, by former members of well-known groups like Santana and Steve Miller Band.

For roughly a decade beginning in 1978, Journey, rattled off an incredible amount of success, totaling 25 gold and platinum albums.

However, after iconic lead singer Steve Perry rejoined the group to tour in the mid-1990s, he had a change of heart and left the group in 1998.

The band toured with multiple lineup changes for roughly a decade before Arnel Pineda was discovered through YouTube.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame group now describes itself as a “world band” as Pineda is Filipino, bassist Randy Jackson is Black, and other members were also born outside the U.S.

The phrase “united we stand, divided we fall” is credited to John Dickenson’s “The Liberty Song” which was written in 1768 to inspire revolutionaries. Patrick Henry would then use the phrase in one of his last public speeches in 1799.

However, despite the phrase’s roots in the country’s founding, unions had been under fire before the pandemic.

In 2019, 65% of those surveyed in Gallop polls supported unions, but the more worrisome statistic from that same 2019 poll was that more than 20% of respondents stated that they had either negative or “extremely negative” views of unions as a whole.

The phrase coined by Dickenson doesn’t even predate unions, as the rise of unions began in the 18th-century Industrial Revolution in Europe, but the idea of unions found very strong support in the colonies.

Heck, the first unionized strike in the country was in 1768, which is why Dickenson’s song lyric often gets attributed to unions, though the song didn’t have anything to do with the union movement in the country at the time.

Union growth exploded in the country in the early 1900s, when a few of the major unions in the country began to accept non-white and women workers. This led to Congress creating the Department of Labor in 1913.

Union organizers worked diligently with state and national legislators to get labor protection laws passed, leading to the Fair Labor Standards Acts of 1938, which implemented a minimum wage, overtime pay, and child labor laws.

Union membership reached a peak of 21 million members in 1979. Since, multiple efforts have been taken politically to devalue and remove protections for workers through unions.

Since the pandemic, the resulting layoffs and labor shortages led to an increased interest in unionization, though you wouldn’t know it by the political discourse.

Oddly, a Gallop poll in August 2022 revealed that unions were viewed favorably by more than 75% of respondents, with a significant portion of that growth in favorable views from the 2019 poll coming from those who self-identify as “conservative” to pollsters.

However, consistently teacher unions, nurse unions, and other unions are used as negative political fodder by candidates who claim to also be conservative.

Recently, the Department of Labor expanded transparency regarding union-busting tactics and the penalties for violating workers’ protected rights to organize. This was in the midst of a major strike in Hollywood from both the screen writers and actors, putting a significant halt on movie and television production.

Multiple healthcare unions have held “quiet strikes” (when workers cover a bare minimum skeleton staffing for public health but refuse to work in non-essential medical services) this year, and the nation’s only “stripper union” won its creation through legal battles (there are currently four other strip clubs across the nation who are in legal process to unionize).

Finally, the United Auto Workers (UAW) union, one of the most influential unions in the nation, is planning a full strike of United States automakers, which would mean 145,000 workers off the job among the major automakers in the U.S., not to mention smaller companies as well.

The UAW strike would cost automakers roughly $70 million per week for concessions that total roughly $200 million. Concessions by the studios of just $40-70 million would put actors and screen writers back to work, but instead, multiple major studios have already reported nine-figure losses during the current strike due to delays and cancellations in production.

Employers balk against unions, whether it’s publicly-traded businesses, private businesses, or even government entities. I can attest to hearing sighs from local and state governments when discussing union employees and contract negotiations.

While many long for the economic stability and growth of the nation that was experienced in the 1950s and 1960s, per the rhetoric spouted in political speeches and rallies, the fact that unions and labor protection really provided a significant part of that stability seems to be second to the ability to fight against the individual worker, trying to label modern workers as lazy, unwilling to work, or greedy.

Meanwhile, there are more able-bodied workers actively in the job force now by percentage than at any point since the first decade after World War II.

Rather than fighting against our teachers, healthcare workers, factory workers, and yes, even strippers, when they choose to organize for a better workplace, we should be encouraging safe and healthy workplaces for all, as that is what will inspire a better overall economy.

Supporting safe, healthy, and financially viable work environments should not be a political football, kicked between parties from one election to the next to garner votes.

Everyone should stand behind those who are united in the workplace…before their fall does even worse things to the economy, something those who speak against unions seldom are willing to consider.