Friday, August 24, 2007

Union Made in the USA . . .

by Sean Chercover

I am not a Democrat, nor am I a Republican; I’ve always been a registered Independent voter. I’ve voted for Democratic candidates, Republican candidates, and even Natural Law Party candidates (it seemed like the funniest option at the time).

I worked briefly as a volunteer on H. Ross Perot’s campaign, partly because it was a funny thing to do, but mostly because I was sick of the Republicrat either/or con game.

I’m still sick of the con game. I’m more convinced than ever that Washington is corrupt to its core, and that our brand of two-party politics is a scam. I seriously doubt that it is fixable, and all evidence suggests that the majority of Americans don’t even want it fixed.

But in this next federal election, I’m backing a candidate anyway. Not because I believe that he will make everything better, but simply because things have gone way too far and we are in danger of slipping off the deep end into our own Orwellian nightmare (if we haven’t already passed the point of no return).

Illinois senator Barack Obama is my candidate. I don’t agree with all of his positions, but that’s neither here nor there; I don’t agree with all of the positions of any of the candidates, from either party. And there’s still plenty of time for Obama to do or say something that will make me regret my choice. But unless and until that happens, I’m an Obama girl. I even have an Obama baseball cap and t-shirt and bumper sticker on my aging Chevy Malibu.

The good news is that both the baseball cap and the t-shirt are union made in the USA. The bad news is, they suck. I mean, they really and truly suck. The seams are all over the goddamn place, there are loose threads and haphazard stitching, the cap’s button is way off-center . . . etc.

I have ball caps and t-shirts made by exploited children in Bangladesh, others made by slave prison labor in China. And by far, the worst quality cap and shirt I now own are Union Made in the USA. And this distresses the hell out of me.

I do not expect American-made products to compete on price. I’m happy to pay a couple bucks more for a cap made in the USA by a union member making a fair living wage. In fact, I actively seek out such products.

No, I don’t expect us to compete on price. But if we can’t compete on quality, we are totally screwed.

Jesus, I’m a cheery bastard today. If anyone has anything optimistic to say about American manufacturing or politics, I’d love to hear it.

In the meantime: Go Cubs! Go Bears! Go Obama!

41 comments:

John P said...

An Obama Girl?

So, the operation took.

Congratulations.

125records said...

I have several American Apparel T-shirts, and they're fantastic. Don't know if they're unionized, but they are made in the U.S., "sweatshop-free."

spyscribbler said...

I'm growing more irked each day that Gore doesn't throw his hat into the ring. Things look bleak.

Say it ain't so, Gore.

Michael Dymmoch said...

Gore would further split the Democratic vote if he threw his hat in the ring, so maybe he'll have the good sense to stay out of it.

As for Made in America--I bought a Ford once, after my Datsun died. That Ford (bought new and carefully maintained) was the worst vehicle I've ever owned. (I've had Datsuns, a Toyota, and a Chevy.) I'm driving a VW now, and every time I bring it in for an oil change my mechanic looks at the engine and says, "American engineers should be ashamed."

I'll start supporting unions when they demand excellence and a decent work ethic from their members and stop protecting slugs.

Sean Chercover said...

Exactly, Michael. The union movement seems as corrupt as Washington.

But I asked for something optimistic, damnit...

Sara Paretsky said...

My grandparents met walking a picket line for the ILGWU; my granny was paid 50 cents per twelve-hour day for finishing shirtwaists. The union gave my grandparents a living wage; they worked their guts out making quality clothes for Yuppies like me for fifty-seven years. When they were old, the union helped them spend a month in the country each summer, in an old resort the ILGWU bought and made available to retired members. They had health insurance when their health became frail. It's hard to buy American these days, but I always prefer to buy union-made clothes when I can find them

Sean Chercover said...

Sara - I'm not questioning the importance of organized labor. I'm pointing out the corruption I see, including throughout organized labor.

If the unions can't point to superior (or at least equal) quality, then protecting higher wages in the global labor market is a lost cause, and the unions then become part of the reason our manufacturing base is going to hell.

The union movement has a long history of stealing from the workers they originally served (especially those unions controlled by the Outfit). And not insisting on high standards of workmanship sabotages the long-term interests of the American workforce.

For more information about union corruption and organized crime, I recommend reading some of the material at:

http://www.ipsn.org/

Depressing stuff, but important to know.

Sara N Paretsky said...

Oh, Sean, I know there's a lot of union corruption, and I agree that our machining is in a sad way, but it would be nice to see machinists treated here the way they are in Sweden or Germany. When my husband was an active member of the Fermi Institute, he was the Ombudsman for the machine shop. They created first-class equipment, stuff that was used in some of the Mars probe experiments, for instance. They were IAM members, and that didn't stop them from doing great work, but it did mean they got paid well for the work they did. On the other hand, the electricians who wired FNAL did it wrong and when my husband and some of the other experimentalists rewired their labs, the electricians cut the cables--so I've seen both sides. I've never known about a union that did as much damage as Jeffrey Skilling or Charles Keating, let alone Dick Cheney--but maybe my family history keeps from seeing any widespread economic disasters unions have caused.

Michael Dymmoch said...

Sara,

How about the widespread disasters in our school systems? The teachers unions don't seem to be able to get great teachers the pay they deserve, but in New York, they prevent horrible teachers from being fired. Here in Chicago, when too many teachers flunked competency tests, they lowered the score needed to pass.

No question unions once helped laborers--back when people had higher personal standards of conduct and better work ethics--like Sara's grandparents. My dad was a union carpenter most of his life, but when he became too disabled to work, he got nothing from the union.

Since laws and litigation have stepped in to protect workers, the unions seem more intent on stirring up trouble between labor and management to justify the need for a union to mediate. The unions don't necessarily get better wages or benefits for their members, but they do take a big chunk of their pay.

Libby Hellmann said...

Whenever I think of organized labor these days, I think about a little piece of history I was told by the daughter of Bill Green, who founded the AFL. Apparently David Dubinsky, head of the ILGWU at the time, kept hearing from his rank and file about the horrible things that were happening to Jews in Germany. Together he and Bill Green wrote a letter and then went to see COrdell Hull at the State Dept, to try and get the Roosevelt administration to do something. Of course, Hull did nothing.

It just seems to me that the personalities that made up the labor movement back then were larger than life. Not afraid to take a stand. Not afraid to give voice to issues that affected their constituencies perhaps only indirectly.

Sadly, those days and those people are gone.

The Home Office said...

Sadly, I agree with everything Sean said. (I'm holding out for Joe Biden instead of Obama, but that;'s a flickering hope.)

I, too, came from a union family, and I've held union jobs. Unions are the only way to keep employees and their pensions from being abused and taken advantage of. Unfortunately, too many unions are primarily interested in making sure the least qualified of their membership are allowed to continue to sandbag.

Now I'm depressed, too.

spyscribbler said...

True, Michael. But I'm feeling like an ostrich and I want to go back in time a bit, see him enter. Daggonit.

Unions and guilds. Well, I'm a musician. And a writer. Yikes. How can I say this without sounding like a horrible person?

Please don't think me horrible, LOL.

What I mean is, standards are important. I've been in the situation of rescuing a tiny little serial publisher, typing my fingers off for them when they'd just been sold and had no backlog of stories. I watched a year later as new writers clamored to write for a penny a word. Said (but apologetic) publisher decides they can only afford novellas from the three highest-rate authors twice a year, because they make the bulk of their money on subscriptions, not royalties. The penny-a-word writers are just way cheaper, and they're so grateful to be published that they don't care about the pay. A good number of them are really good, too, and I don't begrudge them their joy for a little extra change in their pocket, for their hobby.

Maybe time and customers will change publisher's mind, but maybe not. Who knows? Even if you have a union, there are those that won't join, and you still have the same problem. I don't know the answer.

For me, I guess it's just write better and reach for a market higher up on the ladder. What else can you do? Life isn't fair. Unions and guilds are a nice try, but I'm not sure they're the answer, these days. I'm not too familiar with the Writer's Guild, but they seem to have a little more power in Hollywood. Do you know how that works out?

Anonymous said...

Check out www.shopforamerica.com. This awesome site has thousands of American-made products representing hundreds of US companies.

Kevin Guilfoile said...

It should have been entirely predictable that once large unions started holding huge sums in their pension funds, their primary purpose would shift from protecting their workers to protecting their cash. It's exactly what happens to large corporations which become more in the business of inflating their share price than they are in the business of their actual business.

It's all sort of the same and all of it means you can't buy a t-shirt doesn't get all stretchy in the neck. Sigh.

Dick Culver said...

I enjoyed Ms. Paretsky's comments about the ILGWU and the history of the labor movement. Thanks Sara.

But Obama. I was a big fan until he made an ill-considered remark that he would bomb the tribal areas of Pakistan. I'm old enough to remember when we bombed Cambodia and created Pol Pot and the Killing Fields. Destabilizing Pakistan (further) would be a disaster.

I'm writing this in the hope that someone who reads this blog might know David Axelrod (Obama's manager) and could urge him to backtrack on this position.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

My first wife was forced to join a union when she worked in a stationery store, and was paid minimum wage. Some great union, that.

As for the next president: ANYONE BUT HITLERY!

Maryann Mercer said...

I bought a Ford once, back in 1993...used. It's a 1990 Escort and I say "is" because it stills runs just fine. So, perhaps 1990 is the exception to the "Ford is Crap" rule :o)

I'm not sure who has my support. Yet. No one seems to be saying anything we haven't heard before, and I'm not just talking about the issues. Seems to me it's become sport to make your opponent seem a sleazeball right from the start. That way, the issues are conveniently tucked into a corner. Or maybe that's just me.
Anyway, the old "look for the Union label" slogan seems harder to live by when the label itself gets harder to find in the stores I shop. Are we exporting? If I go to China will I see something that says "made in the USA"? My grandpa would be rolling in his grave (union to the core).

Sean Chercover said...

Maryann - The politicians talk like politicians... But a few (and only a few) of the candidates have publicly pledged to take "not a dime" from K Street lobbying firms.

K Street has been perhaps the primary corrupting influence in the last 30 years.

So I would suggest, whomever you support and from whichever party, you choose a candidate who is willing to divorce his campaign from the lobbying industry. Because until and unless we get leaders who will do that, we'll just get more of the same.

Maryann Mercer said...

Sean,as an independent I agree. It just bothers me that somehow the 'rules'require this type of talk. No one is happier than I am about the Illinois primary being moved up...I'll be well informed by the time I hit the booth :o) and I'm just naive enough to think that if the right candidate(s) is(are) chosen, we may have the luxury of an election ON the issues for a change and a chance for this country to recover.

Sean Chercover said...

Wow...you are an optimist.

Maryann Mercer said...

Just part of my charm, I guess :o)

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