On this day in 1890, the United Mine Workers was formed when the Knights of Labor Trade Assembly No 135 and the National Progressive Miners Union merged. These were in the days when unions were quire literally illegal. And this is, to some extent why people always associate unions with violence. Labor organizers and members were commonly murdered. So you might wonder why it is that people don’t get more behind unions today. After all, they are legal — just largely legally neutered.
One reason that does not explain why people don’t get behind unions is that things are so great now. They aren’t. Income inequality is as bad as it ever was. The reason that I find most compelling is that people are used to the way it is now. For one thing, the power elite are a whole lot better at getting their message out. But more important: things have gotten worse inch by inch where most people today don’t know that it was ever different.
In the late 19th century and early 20th century, people still remembered what it was like to have an agrarian lifestyle. Now that’s not to say that it was great. People were still poor. But I’ve felt that the big issue has never been wealth; the issue is control. And if you look at happiness, what you find is that people get happier the more wealthy they are — but only up to a certain point. And I think this is just because when you are in the upper middle class, you feel like you are in control of our life. (Although as Barbara Ehrenreich documents in Bait and Switch, that’s mostly an illusion.)
Unions have never been primarily about money. They too have been about control. Why did unions push for the minimum wage? It didn’t affect them. They didn’t earn the minimum wage. But it was about providing a sense of control for all workers. It was also about providing a sense of solidarity. And this, above all else, is what the power elite cannot abide. Because the power elite know that if working people band together, the power elite are powerless. And this is why unions must be destroyed.