“Some people would just vanish. If you lost your balance or were overcome by heat, you were just gone.” This potential scenario was recounted by a man who worked near a twenty-two hundred degree heat smelter producing steel for cars. National Public Radio recently interviewed him as one of the last survivors of the Flint, Michigan auto workers sit-in against General Motors in the 1930’s. The former steel worker cited this and other, awful working conditions. No protection for workers existed. Businesses exercised unfettered power over people for whom there was no recourse but unity in numbers. And so, the United Auto Workers was begun. The UAW made sure that factories were safe, decent wages were secured, and contracts were fair. The result of union care produced the American car industry whose products were the envy of the world for decades.
F.I.S.T., Norma Rae, and Silkwood are examples of movies which depicted the rise of unions. Sylvester Stallone, Sally Fields, and Meryl Streep respectively portrayed leaders who helped create organizations to protect workers. These films are hard to watch, even today. Exploitation of laborers for the simple pursuit of power makes one’s anger rise. But like anything else, an organization created to curb abuse sometimes becomes the abuser. Today, documentary films such as Waiting for Superman or The Lottery tell a different story. Stories told in these films show, for example, teachers’ unions who are not victims of abuse but groups which abuse the system.
Americans generally have distaste for authority structures unresponsive to the public will, including unions. So in the November, 2010 election, the electorate spoke: there was a 65 seat reversal in the House of Representatives alone. People were fed up with those involved in excessive government. Now states are trying to curb the excess of unions whose sole interest it has been to retain their power through government. Like any organization, there are always some bad groups who give the rest a bad name. At issue are not unions who protect the worker but those who gain unfair advantage through political power.
Are businesses bad? Not necessarily. Are unions bad? Not necessarily. Are governments bad? Not necessarily. Authority structures are necessary. Authority creates order. Orderly authority creates opportunity for responsible, human freedom. But students constantly hear me say, “Authority exercised with care in an open hand, becomes power once the hand closes into a fist.” We respect those who have protected human rights. Some organizations, however, exist for no other purpose than to retain power. Those fists need to become open hands once again. For Moody Radio, this is Dr. Mark Eckel, personally seeking truth wherever it’s found.
Power is good when using tools, bad when used by politicians. Mark teaches Old Testament at Crossroads Bible College. This essay will air as a Moody Radio audio-blog during the summer of 2011.