In the midst of all the turmoil in the Middle East, domestic turmoil also runs rampant as:
several Democratic legislators in Wisconsin have fled that state, refusing to even work (in protest of the Republican governor’s spending proposal);
California is about to go bankrupt;
primaries will be coming up in about a year (and I’ll be able to vote!);
and the federal government is about to shut down because of disagreements over the appropriations bill currently running through the House.
However, Ohio citizens don’t really have reason to search out of state for domestic turmoil. Look around: there have been protests all week in which public employees are decrying the Republican-controlled Ohio government that is expected to pass Republican Gov. John Kasich’s plan to effectively eliminate collective bargaining, which would also essentially cripple unions.
Now I’m not saying that unions are always good forces in this country. A lot of people speculate that the unions were the reasons that companies like General Motors went under – the union leaders kept pushing, pushing, pushing, until they pushed GM right over the edge of the black and into the red. That’s what most people think of when they think of unions, as perhaps they should.
However, I’m not necessarily one of those people who feel that way about unions. I do think that unions serve a very important purpose, especially for the public government workers, and that to eliminate collective bargaining is not only wrong (and unfair) but also unconstitutional.
Killing collective bargaining reverses progress
I’m a firm believer in the principal that history runs in cycles. We pride ourselves today on our civility, our industries, and our advanced economy and society. But just because we have come so far does not mean we cannot learn anything from the past. To pass a bill that essentially eliminates collective bargaining would take us back 100 years to the days when workers had no rights, when they were abused by men such as John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie and Vanderbilt and Chase.
Many people look at the American industrial workforce today and ask how this could ever happen in our day and age. And I answer that the unions were the ones (with a bit of government regulation, too) that first improved these conditions and made it possible for America to truly excel. This excellence came because finally the workers were treated with the respect they deserved and actually had a reason to perform, to work hard … and to excel.
Without the unions, we may, as I said, repeat perhaps parts of our more negative history. The passage of this law would take us back to the days of the Pinkertons – to the days of the Homestead strike, one of the most violent in American history.
Perhaps in today’s modern society, the function of unions is diminished, and perhaps they do push too hard, and perhaps they do constitute a partially negative force in society. But take them away (or their hard-fought right to collectively bargain) and things can change, very, very quickly – for the worse.
Is anyone paying attention to the Constitution?
Now let’s look at this from another angle – one that I think is most important of all. Effectively banning collective bargaining is unconstitutional. Collective bargaining essentially consists of a group of people fighting for something – an assembly of people, perhaps not physically, but intellectually, ideologically and morally, working together. Do we really believe that the Constitution only protects the physical assemblies of people?
Justice William O. Douglas developed the idea that certain rights of the Constitution create penumbras that encompass other rights. Symbolic speech (burning the flag, wearing black armbands, hoisting a Communist flag) is protected, so why shouldn’t symbolic (or figurative, intellectual) assembly? Essentially this is assembly of the minds, of the intellect, to fight for something that certain people in this country believe they deserve. Very clearly, this is a sacred First Amendment right.
Perhaps more powerful, however, is the fact that collective bargaining is a petition of grievances (another sacred First Amendment right). Since we’re especially talking here about citizens and the government (public workers, the citizens, bargaining with the government), those union workers who are bargaining with the government are essentially petitioning for better wages. Their grievance is that they don’t get paid enough or conditions aren’t good enough – whatever the case may be – and they’re petitioning with the government to for a redress of those grievances. It’s just that simple.
Finally, when workers were first allowed to unionize, it was considered a stride toward a modern society in which all people would be treated equally, and all people were heard, even the little, insignificant working man. (As we all know, however, these working people are the ones that in fact keep the government running.) The working people are the reason that John Kasich has electricity in the governor’s mansion (oh, wait, he doesn’t live in the mansion) or heat or air conditioning.
To eliminate collective bargaining – whether outright or through sly, roundabout ways – is not only taking us 100 years in the past, a time that is generally considered a negative point in American history, but also embarking upon a road that would demolish the rights of the Constitution.
Unions are protected and respected entities. Why can’t John Kasich respect that?
Want to know more about Senate Bill 5? Click HERE for the news story.