Friday, November 30, 2012

Unions: Safety and Discrimination Protection

The two tragic fires that have killed workers in Bangladesh remind us of labor’s history in the early years of the twentieth century when the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire killed 146 garment workers most of them Jewish and Italian immigrant women.

Capitalism actively condones the murder of dispensable commodities like people who provide unskilled or semi-skilled labor. Now even the sweatshops of China are moving to even cheaper, less-regulated Bangladesh. American companies like Wal-Mart and Apple have increasingly relied on cheap third-world labor to produce their products as wages plummet and safety regulations evaporate in the United States, our country will once again look like a more desirable sweatshop location for vulture capitalists of all stripes.

With the active collusion of some large city mayors like Rahm Emanuel (Chicago) and Cory Booker (Newark) both labor union power and membership are diminishing. Unions have become an endangered species and will soon go the way of the dodo.

Yes, labor unions fight for the safety concerns of workers. These are paramount. Without your life, a job isn't worth much. But they also fight for job security and retention. The “employment at will” doctrine that is applied in the United States means any worker can be terminated for any reason whatsoever, whether or not it is job related.

If I had been unable to seek out union jobs, I could easily have been a street person instead of a retired homeowner. As a political activist and openly lesbian worker, I have been fired from employment in at least three instances where I was dismissed with the comment, “Your work is fine, you just don’t fit in.” Eating and having shelter are very important factors for a decent quality of life. They are necessary for both those who fit in as well as those who do not. It makes me angry and sad to think that LGBT young people today, who are lacking family emotional and financial support, cannot keep themselves out of poverty.

We desperately need international guidelines concerning workers’ safety. We also need non-discrimination laws to protect the livelihoods of non-traditional employees. Our lives and our jobs should not be too much to ask. We must resuscitate the unions before it is too late.