Mine Safety and Unions

Firedoglake writes about the Congressional hearings today on coal mine safety.  I hope the hearings touch on the decline of unions and how that is directly related to the West Virginia mining tragedy.  Unions pressure companies to enact and enforce safety precautions.  It’s that simple.  Respect for unions is falling away, even among liberals.  Democrats need to return to what is one of our strongest message points:  “WE HELP WORKING CLASS AMERICANS.” 
     Working class Americans work harder than the rest of the country to make ends meet.  Coal miners, seamstresses, auto manufacturers, janitors – they all do back-breaking work for our benefit.  The least we can do is protect our fellow citizens from being taken advantage of in terms of overtime, lack of health care, and discrimination.  Through union support, we can prevent egregious safety violations like what happened in that West Virginia coal mine.
     Wal-Mart, meatpacking companies, and so many other employers are not allowing their workers to unionize in the name of efficiency, lower prices, higher profits, and greater CEO compensation.  What’s troubling is that all Americans – working class and not – seem to have been seduced by the lower prices and therefore unconsciously degrade union support.  What we have to realize as a country is that unions are an important safeguard not only for the 14 miners we lost in West Virginia, but also for the workers in the Midwest whose jobs are disappearing overseas or to undocumented immigrants brought here by contractors for Wal-Mart and other companies. 
     One thing for all of us to think about is:  What are labor unions doing wrong in terms of their messaging?  Why are labor union memberships on the decline?  Why have we allowed protesting and strikes to get such a bad name under the Bush Administration, instead of celebrating the right to free speech and freedom of assembly enshrined in the First Amendment?  Why do we start from a baseline of “economic efficiency” instead of one that prioritizes “human rights” or “workers’ safety”?  How can Democrats reframe the issues to take advantage of our historical support for the little guys and return to a debate on REAL American values:  Working hard and working together to make a good life for ourselves and our communities?

One Response to “Mine Safety and Unions”

  1. Mrs S. Says:

    Unions provide an invaluable service to what might otherwise be a voiceless worker, however unions must be very careful that they keep the worker’s interests at heart and provide tangible benefits to the worker beyond the cost of the union. Many unions fall to corpution just as big business does. Like the branches of the government, I think unions and big business need to provide checks and balances for each other. Too much power tipped in either direction ceases to benefit society as a whole.

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