Review Of A Review

The last time I wrote a book review was in Sister Isaiah’s English class as a freshman in high school. I read short book reviews in the Sunday Des Moines Register most weeks. I haven’t read an in-depth review in ages.

I grew up reading the backside of cereal boxes while I had breakfast. I must have read the same cereal box a hundred times just because it was in front of me. I do read extensively, and I read everything. I read several newspapers, magazines, books, junk, advertisements, and about anything else in front of me.

Someone bought me a subscription to Washington Monthly[1]. Thanks, Bob! I have read most of the articles in the most recent issue, but one particular article was a book review that made me think.

The Strike Zone,” a book review by Sarah P. Weeldreyer, convinces me that I might want to read “Fight Like Hell; The Untold History Of American Labor.” I don’t know when I’ll ever get to it; I have so many books to read as it is. But this is a history book like no other.

Upon finishing the article, I couldn’t help but think of a matter that has bothered me for decades. Why do American workers fight union organizing? What are they afraid of? In my few years of union organizing, I can tell you that many workers are afraid of losing their jobs, not being able to cover expenses if they go on strike, or that they want to keep as much of their paycheck as possible without paying union dues. Not one reason is reason enough. Benefits of a union outweigh any objections.

Loyalty to the company is also high on that list of excuses for not wanting to organize. I can understand the desire to be an asset to the employer’s profit, but how far does that commitment go? Unions offer much more than good wages. Sure, it’s plausible that an undesirable co-worker who has been fired might be reinstated in a job after seeking the union’s help, but that’s not the norm.

As a union business agent in the 1980s, I must have filed one hundred grievances for employees who were fired. I can think of one who got his job back, and to be honest, I didn’t think he was a suitable candidate to go as far as we went in the grievance process.

Can you recall learning about labor unions in high school? Certainly, you remember reading about the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), because who could forget a term like the “Wobblies,” as those union workers were known. Maybe you remember reading about the Grange Movement, which preceded unions. I’m not sure today’s students are taught this aspect of American history. The review, and the book, bring up more history of workers organizing than I was ever aware of.

Business has a huge advantage over workers in more ways than you ever thought possible. If you need a good example, go no further than your state legislature or Congress. You cannot turn your head in any direction at the Iowa Capitol without looking at a lobbyist who represents a business or business organization.  But try to find a lobbyist who represents a union. They’re there, but because it’s so difficult to encourage workers that politics is an essential fact to include in their best interest, it is also next to impossible to have them help fund men and women who influence lawmakers.

Corporations, small businesses, and sole proprietors are members in organizations that help them enhance their profits. The Chamber of Commerce, business associations, goodwill nonprofits, and many more membership organizations are essential to the businesses’ good name and standing in the community. So why is it if a group of workers invite a union to town to discuss the possibility of organizing, the whole town, and even many of the employer’s workers are outraged? A union is nothing more than another nonprofit organization that wants to contribute to the community. It does that by increasing the wages of workers who buy products produced or sold in the community, thereby enhancing the financial standing of the whole community. You can see it in the home improvements, the clothing people wear, the lack of empty storefronts, residents driving better vehicles, etc. This is the one dynamic of bringing a union to town that I fail to understand from the perspective of businesses and city and county leaders.

The dumbest thing I have ever heard a co-worker say is that “no one is worth a million dollars a year.” That was the year in which Nolan Ryan, a ferocious baseball pitcher who scared the shit out of batters with his 100-mph fastball, became the first millionaire in Major League Baseball (MLB). In 1979, he signed a four-year contract with the Houston Astros worth $4.5 million.

Does that “not worth it” statement apply to someone who inherits one million dollars? How about a person who is born and raised in the poorest part of a city and rises up to become a wealthy philanthropist?

There’s a tendency that makes people want to hate the fact that someone is making more money than them. On the other hand, it doesn’t bother those same people that some people in the company they work for is making more than any baseball player. We used to say, “don’t bring people down to your level or a lower level, bring everyone up; then, everyone wins.”

Hopefully, I’ll get around to buying Kim Kelly’s book. When I do, I’m going to read it and donate it to the public library. I hope you can do the same. Better yet, donate it to the nearby school’s library and hope that the school’s book review committee doesn’t ban it.

[1] “Washington Monthly is a bimonthly nonprofit magazine of United States politics and government that is based in Washington, D.C. The magazine is known for its annual ranking of American colleges and universities, which serves as an alternative to the Forbes and U.S. News & World Report rankings.”

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