My grandfather on my father’s side was a union organizer.

My grandfather on my mother’s side was in the union.

My wife is in a union.

The unions of my grandfathers’ time were creating a better working environment than existed. They were creating a balance. They did create a balance between speed and profit against health, safety, and wages.

When I was in high school I got a chance to read the longshoreman’s contract. The one thing that got me was that a longshoreman got paid even if he didn’t work. If he was at the hiring hall on time all five days and he did not get at least 40 hours, the difference between the hours he did get and 40 were “made up” to him.

At the time a longshoreman that didn’t work was bringing home more money than my mother as a degree nurse.

The scam part of it was that most jobs were handed out by 0730, 0800 was pushing it. You were “on time” if you were at the hiring hall by 0900.

Now I was never a member of the longshoreman’s union. I was a kid and I might have misunderstood what I read, but that is what I came away with.

Today that is what unions do, they push for higher wages, less work, for example less students per teacher, and better benefits.

But they came into existence because there was not balance. A company had all the power. Striking was difficult and dangerous.

It was possible to be born into a mining town, be down in the mines by the time you were 10, work until you could no longer work, from health issues or crippling injuries, or death. For the entire duration of you work life, you were forever in debt to the company.

On your first day of work they company gave you your gear. They set the prices and every payday you had to pay some of it back, to pay for the equipment they gave you on credit. Your equipment wore out and you had to replace it. On credit.

The company owned the home you lived in, you were paying for it from your paycheck.

The food you purchased at the company store was bought on credit. And you paid for it out of every paycheck.

It wasn’t uncommon for a man to come out of the mines at the end of the week and owe the company more money after paying his entire wages back to the company, than he owed at the start of the week.

Tennessee Ernie Ford brought that story to life:

A modern take:

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By awa

9 thoughts on “Tuesday Tunes”
  1. A few years ago, I looked at Silicon Valley trends and figured that the near future would have workers living in Company housing, taking the Company bus to the office, eating in the Company cafeteria, depending on the Company health plan, owning nothing, and owing their souls to the Company store.
    This Progress seems to have been disrupted by the Pestilence, but it fits in with the WEF philosophy, and the infamous AB5 is part of it (keeping the workers on the Company plantation, ostensibly for their own benefit, but it’s just another case of collusion between Bosses and Unions). We’re seeing a persistent push to take AB5 national, and no doubt we’ll see further escalation of efforts to herd all workers into Corporate cubicles.

  2. Too much protectionism and what you describe is part of that.

    Supposedly with the old EB contracts you could be too drunk to legally drive but not too drunk to work.

    Unions have done fuck all to protect my dad and actual hard worker or help employ him during layoffs or firing yet they have no problem keeping the toxic employees protected.

    1. The unions have long since embraced the bogus metric of the man-hour, beloved of those who are paid by the head rather than by productivity.
      In nearly any trade, there’s a huge difference in productivity between the best (or best-suited) workers and the worst. Be it ditch digging or aeronautical engineering, the right worker will do a better job, faster, than the wrong one. (And, in any team effort, there’s the matter of how well the members of a team work together. Forming good teams and keeping them together is good for productivity, duh.)
      One hears stories… some years ago (this is a third-hand story, and vaguely remembered) I had a co-worker whose husband ran a company that routinely needed network cables pulled, on big contracts that mandated union workers. So he’d call up the relevant union. But! He couldn’t ask for Dave, Jose, and Ian, oh no. He had to ask for three cable pullers, they’d send the three who were next in the rotation, and if they weren’t up to the Dave-Jose-Ian standard he’d send them home at the end of the day and ask for different ones the next day, repeating the process until he got the ones he wanted. The process wasted time and money, and was frustrating for both workers and employer, but them was the Rules.

      1. More protectionism. Reminds me of trying to buy from a plumbing supply store recently. “We don’t sell to home owners, only contractors to protect the trades.” Suck my ass buddy. The only thing that separates me from a contractors is no longer wanting to pay the state $250 for a piece of paper that says I’m a contractor.

        1. Reminds me of the time, back when I was in college and dinosaurs roamed the Earth, that I went off to a hardware store in search of a matching locking plug and receptacle for 120 VAC, 15 Amps-ish (I wanted to plug in my rack of electronics in such a way that it wouldn’t get inadvertently unplugged). Nope. Hardware store had various locking plugs, and various locking receptacles, but not a matching set.
          I speculated at the time that matching plugs and receptacles were sold only by the secret electricians’ supply store whose location was known only to union members. But, later, I discovered that any given grocery store would sell me fresh basil or fresh oregano, but not both at the same store, and I don’t think that’s a policy imposed by the Italian Chefs’ Union.

  3. “…Today that is what unions do, they push for higher wages, less work,…”
    That is why I am not a fan of unions, and will not pay dues unless I end up in a closed shop, or forced to by law.
    And… it gets worse. Unions are now just as bad as management. They will screw over the workers just as quickly as they screw over management. All for the greater good of the union.

  4. My first job was as a bag & cart boy / gofer at the local supermarket, over the summer. For those months, about 1/2 of my paycheck went straight to the union – initiation fees, dues, etc. As a summer hire, I would never see any benefits from union membership, as even if I came back the next summer I’d again be a “new hire” and half the pay would again go to the union.
    It kind of soured me on the whole “union” thing. I see there was a need at one point; but with the current set of labor laws etc., it seems to me mostly they perpetuate and benefit themselves, and the actual workers are lucky if they’re not hurt. Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy in action.

  5. My grandad was born in Rock Springs Wyoming in 1885. He went into the coal mines when he was old enough that a lunch bucket (more like a real pail rather than a modern lunch box) didn’t drag on the ground (usually around age 8 to 10). Conditions in the mines were horrific, Dangerous, hot, and the ever present threat of black lung. My grandad was black-listed for union organizing, primarily to improve conditions in the mines. Unfortunately, getting conditions changed was harder than getting wage increases. Wage increases just got passed on to the customers, improving conditions in the mines required capital expenditures that came out of the shareholders pockets. When the union finally came to power, corrupt union leaders lined their own pockets and negotiated contracts with higher wages and disability pensions but with little change in safety or working conditions. Eventually, after WWII, the union killed the mines when the Union Pacific Rail Road expedited switching to Diesels when faced with a 2 year coal strike.

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