29 November 2012

I suppose this is what my boss means when he tells us we should be more like Walmart

h/t Mark Shea
Sometimes people wonder why there are unions, which are so obviously corrupt, out to get something for nothing, driving up the cost of everything for everybody, etc.  When I was in university, and being taught social history by professors who were often flat out communists, we used to hear stories about one of the places where union battles got really ugly, coal mines, as an explanation as to why we have unions.  The reason why we heard about coal mines was because the conditions for miners was about as bad as it can get, and it helped left wingers make their point.

Generally speaking, miners lived in mining towns, where housing was provided by the company, for which the worker paid rent.  How good or bad the housing was depended on the company, though no one got a luxury abode.  Frequently the homes were windowless, unheated, and without running water.  Because you lived in the company town, you shopped at the company store, where you often paid three times the cost for goods than you would at other stores, or from mail order stores.  For many companies, being caught shopping at another store was a firing offence.  Because of the prices at the store and the frequently high cost of rent and low wages, many workers went into debt to the company, and went farther into debt every day they worked.  Remember, this was a time when men did not walk away from their debts.  Some companies went so far as to stop paying their workers in legal currency, and instead paid them in company scrip- money that was only good in the company town.  Imagine working for Canadian Tire, and you only got paid in Canadian Tire money.

The children would be educated at company schools, where they learned enough to be coal miners.  When a boy's father died, very often the boy would be approached and told that his father died owing the company money, and that debt now passed onto the son.  This, like the scrip money, was patently illegal, but the boy would only know that if he had been taught it in school.  Somehow, that little tidbit of information was left out of the school curriculum.

Speaking of fathers dying, in the twenties, there was growing evidence of something called "Coal Miner's Death", which we call black lung.  Mining Companies response was to fund their own studies which claimed that breathing in coal dust was healthy and beneficial.  (Anyone remember the tobacco companies testifying before Congress that they believed that smoking was unrelated to cancer?)

I like to think of the story of the elephant and the blind men,  Unlike many of my fellow bloggers out there, while I disagree with the left, I do not think of them as completely wrong.  They have seen a part of the elephant, and I believe it would often behoove us to have a look at their piece of the elephant from time to time, and you may understand where they are coming from.  When you look at coal mines, one can see that there was a need, or at least a reason, for the workers to organize and protect themselves against illegal exploitation by the company.  Some people argue that, while this may have been the way owners and managers behaved in the past, it is not so any more.  CEO's do not exploit their workforce like that nowadays, they say.  Read the graphic at the top, and say that again.

America, one of your most profitable and successful companies is forcing you to subsidize their workforce.  Are you okay with that?

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