Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Union members' stories from across the USA

Rick interviews Mike Kerwin.
The good works, struggles and victories of union members are stories that need to be told. Our Teamster brother Rick Smith has been telling them for years on his radio show from Harrisburg, Pa. And since June 10, Rick has been traveling the country telling those stories from Pennsylvania to California.

In St. Louis and Detroit, Smith spoke with Roy Gillespie, Teamsters Human Rights Commission representative, and Greg Nowak, president of Teamsters Joint Council 43 in Detroit. He also interviewed local labor historians about the history of organized labor in Michigan.

Gillespie has asked Teamster locals in Missouri, Oklahoma and the New York area for help in recovering from natural disasters. Never was help refused. Said Gillespie, 
We worked with the Red Cross and FEMA coordinating the type of union assistance that is needed after a disaster strikes. Whether it’s building stairs or transporting food or furniture, we have met the need. The Teamsters Human Rights Commission is a network of people who are community-minded. It’s what being part of a union is all about.
Mike Kerwin, a labor historian and a director of the Michigan Labor History Society, described how Henry Ford, seen by many as a benevolent employer, actually pushed workers to their limit.  Ford forced them to work faster and longer on his production lines. Other auto companies followed a similar model. Then, said Kerwin, December of 1936 workers in the General Motors plants had had enough of being pushed and sat down at work – and soon similar sit-down strikes occurred at other plants. But, union organizers were ready so 41 days later the workers had their first contract.
Nowak said Michigan will rebound from the recent passage of Right-to-Work (for less) laws. The passage of the law in Michigan has long been the goal of CEOs and billionaires who want more of workers’ income for themselves. These laws weaken workers’ rights, lower wages and make workplaces more dangerous.

Said Nowak,
Michigan and Detroit are resilient. Our main challenge will be to educate voters about how wrong Right to Work laws are. Lower wages, erosion of the middle class – that’s what Right to Work is about.
Rick's daily labor radio show is available on Stitcher and via his website. Listen to the shows from Detroit and St. Louis here.