Yes, that’s what the hashtag said: #HugAThug.
During a check of Facebook and the Twittersphere for information about ‘work’ and organised ‘labour unions’ I came across that hashtag. Given that my search was rather specific and timed in advance of Labor Day, when that particular hashtag popped up it caught my attention.
It took a moment before things began to click; it wasn’t referring to a hip-hop album, it was referring to union workers. For quite some time, union workers have been vilified by those on the Right. In this country, organised labourers have been portrayed as ‘thugs’. They’re the villains in a well-crafted story by the Right; union workers are the people who prevent state and local governments from balancing the fiscal books. The way the story is often told, public servants are grossly overpaid; taxpayers should not be asked to support those greedy people who teach the nation’s children and/or put their lives on the line as police officers or fire fighters. After all, says the story, governments collect taxes that bleed us dry and, in turn, those revenues are used to pay the salaries and benefits of people who have earned the ‘thugs’ title.
Sarah Palin attempts to stay relevant by making statements such as this:
“Maybe it’s the union leadership, those thugs who wanted to deceive their members into believing that growing government was the answer. Well, perhaps it’s those union leaders who need to be recalled and replaced with those who understand what perhaps a union role could be in state government – not a selfish role, not a role that allows government to continue to grow and create an insolvent situation for a state.”
The Right says that it is the fault of unions that corporations (they’re “people”, remember?) are forced to shut down domestic factories and outsource American jobs. Unions prevent “trickle down economics” from working the way it should because, in their greed to get medical benefits and pension plans promised when they signed on for often thankless work, unions prevent the rich from keeping enough of their own money — which means that those funds can’t eventually make their way down to the workforce.
Um, yeah. That’s worked really well.
The fact is that unions — and their ability to bargain collectively to stand up for workers’ rights — are directly responsible for the creation of a middle class…so what is it that the Right fears so much from labour?
Sure, there have been times when union workers have been disruptive; when management won’t negotiate in good faith or attempts to get laws altered so that workers no longer have the right to take a seat at the table, that tends to make people think that being disruptive is their only course of action. But before more criticism is heaped on unions, people who stand firmly against them should keep in mind that without their efforts most of us in either the public or the private sector wouldn’t have things we take for granted such as employer-based healthcare, family and medical leave or even a 40-hour work week.
The abuses against workers that took place in the early 20th century eventually led to legislation to enact an 8-hour workday and began the rise of unions. Though the abuses may not be in the same manner as in past years some abuses continue today, particularly in the form of governments reneging on the terms of employment contracts as they divert revenues towards tax cuts for the wealthy.
As Labor Day approaches, it should be noted that America’s growth was driven by a strong middle class — and that the middle class grew as workers banded together. As the middle class grew, the country’s total wealth also grew. We should also note that the nation’s growth continued until the attacks against trade unions and public education began. We now see a disturbing trend: unions helped the middle class expand and their decline is coinciding with the shrinkage of the middle class.
Chew on that.
And then go hug a thug.
Note: This post originally appeared on TheTazzOne.com but, as the friend, relative and supporter of people who helped build this nation and its middle class, this writer felt that one can never hug enough “union thugs”… so here, today, you have it.