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As civil unrest around the world saturates our media, we need only focus on Madison, Wis., to see we have pockets of resistance to unfair practices here at home. Oh, I know that even discussing unions is anathema to the socialist/communist-fearing Texans and others of conservative persuasion. What a pity we’ve needed unions everywhere to prevent our working men and women from continued exploitation, injury and death at the hands of negligent “businessmen.”

If John L. Lewis hadn’t organized the coal miners, there is no telling how many deaths from unsafe mine explosions or the agony of long-term illness from black lung would have occurred, never mind the pitiful wages that were just enough to keep the miners alive, but not enough for them to break out of their dependence on the “company store.”

How successful would the automakers of Detroit have been without those darned unions sucking profits off the top for (imagine this) a living wage, whereupon a factory worker (horrors) could actually buy his own home and raise a family that wasn’t clothed in rags?

This is not hyperbole.

Those were the plights of workers before unions saved them from total exploitation. In the mid-1970s teachers in Colorado Springs, Colo., struck for the ability to form a collective-bargaining unit. I happened to be working in the defense industry and was earning a whopping $13,000 per year. The teachers in Colorado Springs were making $7,500 – if they had more than five years on the job.

Even in 1977 it was virtually impossible to raise a family on $7,500 before taxes. The results of gaining collective bargaining let teachers earn a living wage with yearly increases based on education and service to the district.

The union folks in Wisconsin simply don’t want to lose their collective bargaining rights, which they negotiated for and won. Now, the governor, in his race to fame, wants to break the promises and the contracts in the spirit of fiscal responsibility. Thousands of union workers are in the streets demonstrating because they are being asked to pay for what the governor gave away to the wealthy and the corporations there. Tax breaks for the rich and the corporations, in case somebody missed it, is the Republican way of being fair.

The people of Wisconsin are revolting against being exploited by the wealthy.

This is not unusual. Human beings have been exploiting other human beings for as long as recorded history. Here in the southern United States, the entire agrarian economy was predicated on that premise. We called it slavery. The nation had to fight its bloodiest and most horrific war over that issue.

Today, and since the days of the great Ronald Reagan (who went from union president to hypocrite), we call it union busting. Have you ever asked yourself why unions exist?

On April 20, 1914, the Rockefeller-owned coal mines, in the midst of a labor strike over terrible pay ($1.68 per day of “scrip” redeemable only at the company store) and very harsh working conditions, tried to break the strike by calling in the Colorado National Guard to force the workers back on the job. The ensuing riot killed 19 people including women and children.

This shocked Congress, which finally passed legislation that outlawed scrip pay, resulted in the eight-hour work day and child labor laws.

The anti-union actions over the last 30 years by conservative politics have reduced union representation from nearly 50 percent at the end of World War II to about 13 percent today.

So, the canard about unions being the cause of our economic and budget woes is shallow and transparent; it is political posturing, nothing more.

If businesses and the management philosophy of public employees saw their employees as assets instead of liabilities, perhaps labor-management relations would be a lot more civil and a lot less confrontational. Perhaps the wage payers would see more productivity from employees who felt empowered and included instead of being treated like a necessary nuisance.

This enlightenment would also allow that organized labor does not equal communism as the “sons” of Joe McCarthy understand it.

Americans want and deserve fairness and unbroken promises. Is that too much to ask of employers whether they be private or public? It appears that in Wisconsin, those employers don’t care.

Turner is a retired teacher and industrial engineer who lives near Marble Falls. He is an independent columnist, not a staff member, and his views do not necessarily reflect those of The Tribune or its parent company. He can be reached by e-mail at