Holidays Remind Us of What We've Gained Through Organized Effort

Charles W. Jones
International President Emeritus

Without unions, we wouldn't even have the ability to celebrate holidays with our families - unions earned workers paid holidays

The winter holidays are almost here, and most of us can expect to spend a little extra time with our families, to hear from those we haven't seen in a while, and perhaps to eat a little more than we should.

It's a time of year when we are reminded of where we come from and the people who were there to help us when we were first starting out. We eat meals with relatives we may never see during the rest of the year, separated by distance and different lifestyles. We sit down with old friends and remember what things were like 20, 30, 40 or more years ago. Our conversations are filled with stories of the way things used to be, of memories - both good and bad - of the lives we've lived together, and of hope for a better future for ourselves and our children and grandchildren.

For those of us who can remember 60 and 70 years ago, the contrast between the way things were and the way things are now is sometimes confusing. On the one hand, workers have come a long way during our lifetimes. On the other, we often see signs that our country is sliding right back into the anti-worker business practices and governmental indifference toward workers that made life so hard for the average family in the first half of this century.

Without the work of our union brothers and sisters, our plates would not be nearly as full, nor our houses as warm, nor our lives as full of joy and promise.

Few young people today appreciate the sacrifices union members made in the first half of this century in their efforts to secure a livable wage, a safe workplace, a dignified retirement, and a modicum of respect. Workers were often fired for organizing unions. They were beaten and tossed into jail by police departments, which functioned as no more than hired thugs for Big Business.

During the infamous massacre of 1914 in Ludlow, Colorado, 400 state militia, bolstered by private detectives hired by the mining companies, attacked the tent city erected by the families of striking miners with bombs, machine guns, and exploding bullets. Women and children were burned to death in their tents or shot down as they tried to escape. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., justified the slaughter to Congress by saying that the principle of maintaining a union-free workplace "is a great principle," to be upheld regardless of the cost.

And this massacre was not unique. For the crime of withholding their labor in an effort to gain a better wage, workers were shot and killed all over the United States - in Chicago, Matewan, Lattimer, Centralia, Herrin, Verdin, Dunnville, Homestead, and Philadelphia.

Workers today still reap the benefits paid for by the blood of those workers. Child labor laws, the 40-hour week, Social Security, and workplace safety regulations all came into existence because of unionized workers. All of the benefits we now expect from our employers - paid holidays, company-paid medical insurance, pension plans - were won by the efforts of organized workers. All Americans and Canadians benefit from the work of labor unions.

Parents have been able to raise their children better, owing to union wages, which were 38 percent higher than nonunion in 1995. Our communities are more stable, because unions provide job security and solid incomes. Our great middle class, born through the efforts of organized labor, is the bulwark of democracy for the entire planet, maintaining peace and offering prosperity worldwide.

As we enjoy the holiday season, we should remember the direct connection between strong unions and good jobs, between union membership and better wages, between solidarity and job security. Our families - especially our children - must learn the role that unions play in our lives and in theirs.

It is no accident that in the past two decades, as union membership has declined, so have the wages of the average worker. If we are to reverse those trends, we must make sure every worker and every family member understands the importance of being a strong union member.

Give thanks for your union brothers and sisters this year. Without them, and without the thousands of unionized workers who have come before us, our plates would not be nearly as full, nor our houses as warm, nor our lives as full of joy and promise.