When I was young and naive, I supported the arguments of those who criticized unions. I think that I have heard every possible argument against unions and I bought into them wholeheartedly at one time. At some point in my life, I was exposed to the thought of Louis Brandeis, who was an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court from 1916 to 1939. He argued that a healthy and vibrant middle class was essential to a well-functioning democracy, which I support.
Now there are those who contend that the US is a republic, not a democracy. In my opinion, that is a distinction without a difference. It is a guiding principle around the world in democracies of universal suffrage, one man, one vote. Those who raise the difference between a republic and a democracy are the people, in my opinion, who support a property qualification for the right to vote. It is an argument that has simmered since the founding of democracy in ancient Greece.
Therefore, a healthy democracy requires a healthy middle class and the middle class in the US is under attack and fast disappearing. The US had a healthy and growing middle class in the 1950s and subsequent decades when we had strong unions. As union membership declined and unions came under sustained attack from the 1%, the middle class started to shrink. Both a shrinking middle class and shrinking union membership continue to this day. Therefore to preserve our democracy, we must encourage union membership which in turn will preserve and enlarge the middle class.
Brandeis argued, and I agree, that we can have a great concentration of wealth or democracy, but both at the same time. In theory, it is possible to have economic opportunity without unions. However, in practice individual workers must band together in order to withstand the economic might of concentrated wealth, either in corporate or private hands. It is possible to list union abuses at length, but that is not sufficient reason for limiting or abolishing unions. It is sufficient reason for reform, but the preservation of the middle class and the rescue of our democracy from the 1% are of paramount importance.
Think about it this way as a pyramid. At the base are the citizens with the right to vote and a need to work. Some are organized into unions which negotiate certain rights for their members which influence rights for all workers. Above them is a layer, the middle class, supported by the health and strength of the workers beneath them. Above the middle class is the 1%. And above all of them is an umbrella representing our democracy shielding all of them from the slings and arrows of fate.
P. S. Age discrimination, although illegal, is widespread in the US. In my opinion, unionization is the best protection that anyone can have against age discrimination.
- Peel back the layers of the union (failsafebydesign.com)