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Letter to the editor: Unions, workers paid way to middle class

Sarah Backer’s commentary on and indictment of unions as having lost their way, only representing old folks and featherbedding and other assorted observations reveals an uninformed and sophomoric point of view and not the realities of our labor movement here in Houston and elsewhere.

Yes, unions plead guilty to some corporate charges that are obliquely referenced.  We have raised wages for workers and brought about the greatest middle class that the world has ever seen (’50s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s). Savable wages, health benefits, pensions, job protections and national laws that protect all workers along with an unprecedented upward mobility for all workers as they organized and negotiated for better wages, hours and conditions of employment. Union workers only asked for what was their fair share in return for the labor that they provided. Only recently with the decline in union membership, largely through corporate outsourcing, that the above economic benefits have also declined. This is no coincidence.

Workers from all backgrounds have benefited. Men, women, African  Americans, Latinos and Asians all have better pay and benefits than their non-union counterparts. Unions are part of the so-called laws of economics — a counterbalance against unabashed corporate greed and exploitation. Unions and all workers have been struggling against the onslaught of corporate globalization. The so-called “free market” that is sought by this writer readily crushes (or burns as in the recent garment factory fire) workers in its quest for profits above people.

The very public University of Houston that this writer is attending and gaining benefit from is part of the “collective good” that benefits our students and our country’s future and is supported by unions and their members through taxation.

Going all the way back to the 1960s, unions’ history of racial discrimination is a real stretch.  One needs to look at the union leadership today and more importantly union members, and it is a far different world. I was a student at UH in the ’60s. We can all have an interesting conversation about discrimination at UH if you would like to have it, but it would not be relevant to today’s student population or workplace. As for the corporate world, and who dominates that leadership, it is still largely pale and male.

— Richard Shaw, class of 1969, is secretary-treasurer of the Harris County AFL-CIO Council. 

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