Why We NEED Unions!

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I see our right wing friends here are attacking the very concept of unions in a market economy. I think it's important to understand why the union movement is ESSENTIAL as a tool to keep organized corporate power in check.

The Right loves to portray capitalism as merely a beneficent system of free choice... that corporations are merely organized attempts to meet human needs, otherwise they'll fail in the market. Therefore the survivors in this market are merely those who best meet the needs of consumers. If companies mistreat their workers, they can "just leave". WOW! Who can argue with that! But if that were only the entire story.

Painting with a very broad brush… the modern corporation is historically a recent invention… arguably unleashed by some USSC decisions in the late 1800s. Corporations were no longer controlled by state charters to certain purposes, or to finite life spans. They could shop for the state with the least restrictions. They were freed to live forever, accumulate capital forever, and engage in any legal market activity. Their only fiduciary obligation was to shareholders not to society. We had created virtual Frankensteins that would soon try to break any other shackles that constrained their quest for profit or power. While there were certainly battles over working conditions early in the industrial age, the first battles with modern corporations were getting them out of politics, working conditions, and product safety. Unions were a RESPONSE to corporate power. Why?

The competitive marketplace has a dark, sociopathic side where ethics and morality can work AGAINST a company placing it at a competitive disadvantage. Left alone to the pressures of the market, companies are under constant pressure to cut costs and left to itself... everything would be on the chopping block... worker safety, pollution control, benefits, pay, vacations, etc. Corporations would love nothing more than to shed government mandates that "civilized" the rat-eat-rat economic system... the 40 hour week, overtime, minimum wage, holidays, prevention of child labor, social security, unemployment, product safety, pollution controls... or those benefits won though negotiation... pensions, higher pay, health insurance, 401ks, etc. While the Right sweeps US corporate history under the rug, we can see the true nature of corporations today when they move to third world nations, are free of such government mandates, AND don't face an organized workforce that has leverage to negotiate better pay and conditions.

And that's the point. Government has certainly done much to civilize the competitive environment so it's not merely exploitative but works to benefit workers and their families. We protected these gains with tariffs against cheap imports. But corporations still have an advantage in negotiations with workers and could still undo much of what government did to improve wages and working conditions if workers did not have the organized power to match organize corporate power. Can unions go too far acting in their self interest? Sure. But so can corporations.

Corporations are always under market pressures to break out of the box government and unions placed them and the far Right of the GOP has slavishly been helping corporations accomplish this. But the far Right has not always held sway in the GOP. Moderate GOPers had embraced New Deal reforms and programs. Arguably the US enjoyed some of its best years during the post WWII era… and more efforts were made to further civilize the economy… the EPA and OSHA come to mind. But free trade became the escape hatch for corporate America and now Citizens United the latest. Sadly our friend on the Right have been drinking the carefully crafted Kool Aid that corporations are our friends, they're on our side. Perhaps at times. But the dark side of the corporate beast will never change unless we change take the next step… not just reversing free trade and the decline of unions, but changing the very nature of corporations though reforms in their charter. But that's not even on the radar. For in the political arena, without the power of organized labor, the Democratic Party will drift further to the Right seeking corporate dollars. Once that sell-out is complete, where once we controlled our little Frankensteins, they will now control us.

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Pierpont
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Comments

I have no problem with private unions as long as when high compensation bankruptsthe company we don't bail them out like we did with gm.

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CollegeConservative
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Well said, Pierpoint. Market pressures, plus the generally sociopathic nature of those who rise to the top of corporate-dom will lead to a return to anything goes worker and consumer protection.

But, and it's a BIG BUT - you need to be preaching to union members themselves as they seem to jump ship when they aren't required to join a union. Look at what's happened to Wisconsin public worker unions since Walker's bill passed - over 50% of those unions have jumped ship.

It's a devestating development, and nobody should have been surprised at the recall result. If UNION MEMBERS THEMSELVES don't see the benefits of the union, what chance is there to convince the general public of the benefits of strong unions?

Americans are generally complacent and uninformed, witness the Wisconsin union defection rate. It will take a baseball bat to the side of the head, ie., return to poor working condition and unsafe product before people see the light, unfortunately.

As such, when the real attack on Wisconsin public workers begins - mass layoffs, pay and benefit cuts.......hopefully it starts with those no longer protected by the union....That should convince them of the importance of the union they fled.

It's my opiniion union leaders have not done their jobs to convince workers of the values of the union. They will pay dearly for that.

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al3
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Jul. 31, 2007 4:01 pm

You're 30 years too late I'm afraid.

lovecraft
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From Noah Millman: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/millman/all-or-nothing/

Excerpts:

There is an argument to be made – a powerful argument – that labor, as a whole, has gotten the shaft out of whatever prosperity has been achieved since the mid-1980s. Some blame the Federal Reserve’s policy of disinflation; some blame free trade; some blame immigration; some blame changes in the tax code; some say it’s the inevitable negative bi-product of the generally very positive economic rise of China and East Asia more generally. Without going into all those possibilities, though, if you believe a revival of unions could play an important role in redressing this situation then public sector unions not only aren’t a cornerstone on which you could build. Focusing on their fights may actually retard progress.

The reason is clear if you compare American unions with unions in countries with very high rates of unionization but nonetheless successful economies, such as in northern Europe. In those countries, there is a much less adversarial culture of labor-management relations. Labor, in effect, has a permanent seat at the management table. Undoubtedly, management would prefer to have a freer hand. But the very fact that this situation obtains across the economy means that it is less threatening to any individual company. No company needs to worry about being wrecked by its union, because it doesn’t have a non-union competitor ready to eat its lunch, and the unions have rational stake in the success of the enterprise. As well, the public provision of a variety of benefits make it less-likely that a union would start catering primarily to its own retired workers at the expense of new entrants to the workforce.

None of that is true in the United States – and none of it could be true with respect to public sector unions. Public sector unions cannot have a rational stake in the profitability of their enterprise – because they are not working for profit-making entities. And the smaller baseline welfare state makes the benefits negotiated by unions much more valuable.

The only way to make real progress on changing the social contract is to get everybody into the pool together with respect to those risks you want to see pooled. That means getting the uninsured into the health insurance pool, by government mandate if necessary – but it also means weaning private employees off employer-provided insurance, and getting Medicare recipients on the same footing as well. That’s why I’ve long argued that Obamacare and the voucherization of Medicare are two sides of the same reform – because would push a large class of citizens into a common risk pool. And it’s why successful health-care reform matters more to union expansion than any other reform – because the biggest fear employers have with regard to unions is being turned into the airlines or the auto companies, crippled by a generation of retired unionized employees with gold-plated benefits.

Progressives have understandably thrown their all into the Wisconsin fight, once the battle was joined. But I guess my bottom line is that Katrina vanden Heuvel is exactly wrong. Yeah, a lot of people have been mobilized, and a big database has been compiled. But there is no future in this particular fight. And to win, you have to win the future.

Coalage1
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Mar. 14, 2012 8:11 am

The problem with having public unions is that the person paying the bill (the taxpayer) is not well represented at the bargaining table. You end up having career politicians caving into the unions in order to get their votes. Then these very same politians who negotiate these sweet deals for the public unions do not fund the very same pension plans that they negotiated (see Illinois for an example of how that works)!

And I do find the studies camparing public sector wages to private sector wages. You can skew that any way you want to. What is a comparable job to a high school teacher other than a high school teacher at a private school? I find any study of private sector wages to public sector wages suspect at best.

The question is, are the jobs getting filled by qualified people? If that answer is yes, then you are paying enough money. Is Wisconsin able to get qualified school teachers to work there now? I don't live in Wisconsin, but I bet the answer to that questions is yes. Correct me if I am wrong.

For the record, I have no problems with private unions. There the person paying the bill (the business owner) is well represented at the bargaining table. That's capatalism at its best, the company trying to pay as little as possible, the workers trying to get as much as possible, and a negotiated settlement somewhere in the middle. Nothing wrong with that.

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mauiman58
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Jan. 6, 2012 6:45 pm

Civil Service protections or unions-one or the other. Private employees are at will employees and don't have civil service protections. Add an extra layer of union protection and you end up with the fiscal crisis we have now. Here in CA, both repubs and demos fell under the spell of public employee contributions and rubber stamped union proposals for the past 20 years.

lovecraft
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May. 8, 2012 12:06 pm

If we need unions then lets get rid of oscha.

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Quote CollegeConservative:

If we need unions then lets get rid of oscha.

Is that some sort of asian vegetable?

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Quote lovecraft:Here in CA, both repubs and demos fell under the spell of public employee contributions and rubber stamped union proposals for the past 20 years.

And just what is the percentage of possibly poorly negotiated pension contracts either in Cal or nationally? If some are out of line, then they need to be renegotiated even if some union members scream and holler. But I don't want the Right… ever hoping to create resentment, to use a few bad examples to become the half-truth they can exploit which colors the entire debate.

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Quote mauiman58:The problem with having public unions is that the person paying the bill (the taxpayer) is not well represented at the bargaining table. You end up having career politicians caving into the unions in order to get their votes. Then these very same politians who negotiate these sweet deals for the public unions do not fund the very same pension plans that they negotiated (see Illinois for an example of how that works)!

Ya ya, that's the Right's new narrative ever since Cristy became governor in NJ. And Illinois has an odd constitutional clause that guarantees the value of pensions. I don't see that necessarily makes politicians negotiate possibly bad pensions agreements but it might affect attempts to reform them. The REAL question here is... leaving aside the Right's tendency to use half truths to claim they represent the entire debate... just what percentage of public pension contracts nationally are actuarially unsound? Does that differ much from private sector plans? In the end isn't the best solution a Single Payer pension plan above and beyond private pension plans and Social Security?

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Quote al3:If UNION MEMBERS THEMSELVES don't see the benefits of the union, what chance is there to convince the general public of the benefits of strong unions?
The Right is doing what it does best... creates resentment, then uses that to divide and conquer. Unions sometimes make that easy when they go too far. Some of the UAW contracts were absurd... job banks where unneeded workers sat around getting paid for being on reserve. If public workers pensions are actuarially unsound, and require tax payer bailouts, then that too results in resentment.

Of course the Right lives in a world of half truths. The other half of the coin is what THEY have inflicted on the economy that makes workers more insecure. Encouraging 401k plans became the escape hatch for companies to drop defined benefit pensions. As the individual owners of these expensive retail 401k retirement plans rode the Wall Street roller coaster, saw their fortunes rise and fall, they looked at those remaining few with generous defined benefit pensions... and it didn't mater if it they were funded 100% by deferred compensation or not. (Let's remember that even private sector employers pay 50% of Social Security.). Every state is different and WI might not have the problems other states have. They just got pissed... just as the Right hoped they would.

But on some level I can see why even some private sector union members might become resentful if they fear their future is insecure in the Right's Brave New World of "You're On Your Own" yet hear they might have to also pay to bail out poorly negotiated public pension plans. This might easily blind them to all the other benefits unions offer.

Which raises a larger issue. In general having thousands of public and private pension plan trust funds suffers from the same fragmentation and inefficiency as do our thousands of health insurance pools. As Single Payer is the way to deal with inefficiency in our health care system, perhaps we need a Single Payer national pension plan beyond or part of Social Security.

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No its the Department that sets standrads forwork places.

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Quote CollegeConservative:

No its the Department that sets standrads forwork places.

You mean OSHA? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupational_Safety_and_Health_Administration Thanks for another example of the breadth of knowledge you're getting at that expensive religious college of yours.

WTF do you now have against OSHA? That corporations hoping to save a dime to be more competitive... or more greedy, should also be free to skimp on workplace safety? Been there, done that. So pray tell, with union membership now down to about 11% of the total workforce… less in the private sector, how are workers in NON-union shops, to protect themselves? Oh I get it... you DON'T want them to!!!!

Is there ANY corporate agenda that you do NOT blindly subscribe to?

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Quote CollegeConservative:

No its the Department that sets standrads forwork places.

Is that the labor department or the standards department?

delete jan in iowa
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Well if unions are supposed to prevent us from goingback to the days of the oppressed work then why do we need OSHA.

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CollegeConservative
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Quote CollegeConservative:

Well if unions are supposed to prevent us from goingback to the days of the oppressed work then why do we need OSHA.

Do you even know what the function of OSHA is?

delete jan in iowa
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Yes it sets work basic work saftey and conditions. All I'm saying is if we have Osha do we need unions or vice versa.

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Quote CollegeConservative:

Yes it sets work basic work saftey and conditions. All I'm saying is if we have Osha do we need unions or vice versa.

NO..... There is no equivalence here. One doesn't replace the other in functionality.

delete jan in iowa
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Sure it does if u take the union narrative that the worker would be abused with out the union.

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CollegeConservative
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Quote CollegeConservative:

Sure it does if u take the union narrative that the worker would be abused with out the union.

No.... you're wrong again.

delete jan in iowa
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How?

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CollegeConservative
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Quote CollegeConservative:

How?

There is no equivalence here. One doesn't replace the other in functionality.

I realize that you just need to get the last word in so respond to this post and quit.

delete jan in iowa
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Break the argument

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Quote CollegeConservative:

Well if unions are supposed to prevent us from goingback to the days of the oppressed work then why do we need OSHA.

Sorry CC, I know despite that "college" education you claim you paid so much for... you're really not that knowledgeable or bright. I already brought to your feeble attention... and you should already KNOW this from all those Orwellian Right sources you frequent, that unionized workers don't comprise 95% or even 75% of the workforce. They don't even comprise 50% or 25% of the workforce. They comprise about 11-13% of the workforce. Which brings up the question I ALREADY ASKED YOU: given the sociopathic nature of capitalism, without unions... who BUT THE GOVERNMENT will insure corporations will not skimp on worker safety just to pad the bottom line? Don't bother answering. It will just be more idiotic Right wing blather.

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Quote CollegeConservative:

Yes it sets work basic work saftey and conditions. All I'm saying is if we have Osha do we need unions or vice versa.

Sorry CC, you're just a freakin' braindead idiot. This is your MO: you create your own false dichotomies, then when reasonable people try to correct you, you delude yourself that is "proof" your own warped construction of reality must be true. Maybe it's not just a matter of you demanding a refund from whatever "college" you claim to attend. You can't be this stupid in a vacuum. It's only a matter of time that even your braindead college can't deal with your idiocy.

Now THERE'S an accomplishment!

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Quote CollegeConservative:

I have no problem with private unions as long as when high compensation bankruptsthe company we don't bail them out like we did with gm.

You do realize that high wages can never really be the cause of bankruptcy right? The cost of labor is figured into the price of the product. The only way a company goes bankrupt is a bad business model - IE: They don't sell enough of their product to cover their business costs. The reason GM and Chrystler went under is because, unlike Ford, they refused to refocus their product line on fuel efficient vehicles and they were not down sizing their work force prior to the economic retraction.

If you remember about 2-4 years before the crash Ford was closing a lot of plants, letting go a lot of employees, giving older employees retirement packages, etc. At the time, they were getting a lot of flack like they were a burning ship going down. We see in retrospect that they were the only autocompany facing reality and running a responsible business. The only people to blame in the car industry disaster are the boards and CEOs.

The only way you could really blame it on wages is if you argued that the CEOs had absolutely no control over the collective bargaining outcomes - no way you can claim that - and that the unions dictated a salary so high that the cost of the products were so inflated that they could not be sold on the market efficiently. Highly improbable for so many reasons.

ah2
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Dec. 13, 2010 10:00 pm

No yoyuan raise the pricebrut at some point you price out the market and need todecrease overhead. That'swhat happened to gm the we're paying ridiculus salaries and it came back and bit them in the ass.

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CollegeConservative
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Where did you come up with this rant against OSHA? I've never heard it before. OSHA covers every workplace, union or not, and the vast vast VAST majority of workplaces are not union. I think OSHA prevents the owner from locking the bookkeeper in the meat freezer so he doesn't nap on the job.

chilidog
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Wasn't the biggest problem with GM, GMAC mortgages?

chilidog
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1 of course they can it's called overhead.if my overhead exceeds profits I will go bankrupt. 2 I'm not against OSHA I'm simply saying that they have picked up what used to be a union responsibility and now have replaced the need for unions.

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Quote CollegeConservative:

1 of course they can it's called overhead.if my overhead exceeds profits I will go bankrupt. 2 I'm not against OSHA I'm simply saying that they have picked up what used to be a union responsibility and now have replaced the need for unions.

OSHA deals with workplace safety. Unions deal with wages, discrimination, and working conditions. There is still a need for unions. If we lived in a perfect world, then we would have no need for unions or OSHA.

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Isn't workplace safety and work conditions the same thing?

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Quote CollegeConservative:

Isn't workplace safety and work conditions the same thing?

Not neccesarilly. Working conditions can include hostile environments, harassment, filthy surroundings, work hours, etc. Unions are involved with a lot more than OSHA.

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Bush_Wacker
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I'm preety sure there are OSHA standards for hostile work place.

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Quote CollegeConservative:

1 of course they can it's called overhead.if my overhead exceeds profits I will go bankrupt. 2 I'm not against OSHA I'm simply saying that they have picked up what used to be a union responsibility and now have replaced the need for unions.

My God, are there ANY intelligent Right wingers out there? CC continues on this ridiculous line of "reasoning" not because it's in any way connected to reality, but because he thinks his 4th grade argument is somehow devastating or clever. What was the largest percentage of the workforce that was ever unionized? Perhaps 30%??? So let's see... according to CC's "logic", if it's now down to about 11%... it means we we need a BIGGER OSHA!!!!

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Insults are not facts theyWiill noto win arguments

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Quote Pierpont:What was the largest percentage of the workforce that was ever unionized? Perhaps 30%??? So let's see... according to CC's "logic", if it's now down to about 11%... it means we we need a BIGGER OSHA!!!!

Actually CC's argument is probably the same as it is for getting rid of the EPA because it "forces" companies to go overseas where they can pollute more. According to high "logic" this will REDUCE global pollution. No shit, he actually made that argument.

In the end, all this Right Bozo will do is claim getting rid of government is the answer to everything.... even if we already KNOW from all the corporate abuse of workers and the environment early in the century COMPANIES CAN'T BE TRUSTED TO DO THIS ON THEIR OWN.

Gee CC, if reality flies in the face of your theory, it's NOT reality's fault.

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Quote CollegeConservative:

Insults are not facts theyWiill noto win arguments

Kid, you wouldn't know a fact if it hit you in the face.

delete jan in iowa
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Feb. 6, 2011 12:16 pm

Ok if you are so chock full of facts why do we need unions. What value do the bring?

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CollegeConservative
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Quote CollegeConservative:

Ok if you are so chock full of facts why do we need unions. What value do the bring?

Better wages, and safe workplaces, and job security.

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Phaedrus76
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Cant the individual do that?

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CollegeConservative
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Quote chilidog:

Wasn't the biggest problem with GM, GMAC mortgages?

The two major problems GM had was GMAC's mortgage portfolio, and a line up of crap cars built on 28 or29 platforms. When Wagoner took over they began to address that. If you do not know what an auto platform is, a platform is like the Ford Panther II, which is the Crown Vic and Town Car. Most car makers had 8 -10. That meant GM was dealing with triple the supply chain of Toyota, and Honda, and Ford.

Chrysler just built ugly cars that people did not like.

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Phaedrus76
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Quote CollegeConservative:

Cant the individual do that?

Do you know anything about the history of the labor movement? If you're actually interested, which I doubt, you should get some "books" and read about it.

I'll make it easy for you just look at this Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

If you come back and give me some sort of glib replay then I'll know you don't really care about if we do or don't need unions, you simply are looking to make an argument.

delete jan in iowa
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Quote CollegeConservative:

Insults are not facts theyWiill noto win arguments

Enough of your pathetic games Pickles. There are PLENTY of facts in my posts. You'll ignore them insults or not. So what do you expect when you come here making an ass of yourself? PRAISE and RESPECT?

(my apologies to everyone else. my intolerance of stupidity often gets the best of me. I'll try to tone it down.)

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Pierpont
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Quote jan in iowa:Do you know anything about the history of the labor movement? If you're actually interested, which I doubt, you should get some "books" and read about it.

I'll make it easy for you just look at this Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

CC seems like one of those home schooled kids whose rigth wing fundie parents would never think of teaching him anything about real history, only the Right's view of the world. I'm sure he doesn't care but you can watch a PBS special on Triangle here:
http://video.pbs.org/video/1817898383

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Pierpont
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Feb. 29, 2012 2:19 pm
Quote Pierpont:
Quote jan in iowa:Do you know anything about the history of the labor movement? If you're actually interested, which I doubt, you should get some "books" and read about it.

I'll make it easy for you just look at this Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

CC seems like one of those home schooled kids whose rigth wing fundie parents would never think of teaching him anything about real history, only the Right's view of the world. I'm sure he doesn't care but you can watch a PBS special on Triangle here:
http://video.pbs.org/video/1817898383

We will see.... he can't stand not to get the last post in, so I'm sure you're right and he will show himself for the "intellectural doorknob" he is. Was really waiting to use that phrase some where nice!

delete jan in iowa
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Feb. 6, 2011 12:16 pm
Quote Pierpont:
Quote jan in iowa:Do you know anything about the history of the labor movement? If you're actually interested, which I doubt, you should get some "books" and read about it.

I'll make it easy for you just look at this Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

CC seems like one of those home schooled kids whose rigth wing fundie parents would never think of teaching him anything about real history, only the Right's view of the world. I'm sure he doesn't care but you can watch a PBS special on Triangle here:
http://video.pbs.org/video/1817898383

Pierpont........CC is what we call a dumb-ass wingtard in my neck of the woods. I believe the boy has more than a few screws loose.

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Sprinklerfitter
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Sep. 1, 2011 6:49 am

I'm stuck here in Wisconsin where Governor Creepy Dead Eyes aka Scott Walker helps set the stage for what is sure to happen nationwide. We need unions. We really do.

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stuckinwisconsin
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Jun. 12, 2012 9:58 am

Why what in this day and age can a union do that I can't as a individual!

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CollegeConservative
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May. 4, 2012 2:22 pm

A 150 years ago sadly unions were needed. The upside is also the downside, they have done such a good job of getting laws past that limit the work week to 40 hours, safe conditions, holidays, and many others that they are now trying to find any way of justifing their continued existence.

I have no problem if you as an employee wants to band together for better negotiating pay stand point but do not force me into your group just because I work in the same industry.

If it is a public sector union then the contract should be posted fot the tax payer to see and a tax payer vote be carried out because the tax payer is paying the bill. This will keep politicians that are beholden to the unions to get elected promissing them the world.

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workingman
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