Bob Franken


August 8, 2007
Labored Debate (Bob Franken)
@ 1:06 pm

I kept waiting for one of the candidates to declare that his or her military operations would only involve unionized soldiers.

While the pandering didn’t quite reach that level, the Democrats-who-would-be-president did their level best to play to their audience. Soldiers Field in Chicago was packed with 17,000 faithful members of the AFL-CIO.

That represents a sizeable chunk of what’s left in organized labor after decades of ruthless management union-busting. It has been aided and abetted by self-serving, inept, dogmatic union leaders, who have left their movement in tatters.

It’s not that their members don’t have valid issues. America’s corporations have not overlooked a single opportunity to maximize profits at the expense of their workers. Whether it’s exporting jobs, eliminating pensions and health benefits, mergers, layoffs, whatever is needed to add to the bottom line, they have chewed up and spit out the middle class without conscience. And they’ve done so with the help of politicians from both parties.

Unions still have some remnants of clout left: money and, particularly, an organization. It’s a depleted one but any Democrat can use an organization. Remember what Will Rogers said.

To be clear, this wasn’t just a union love-fest. There was some jabbing about whether the troops the candidates agree should be pulled out of Iraq should keep their duffel bags packed for Pakistan. And a huge amount of bickering over who has the most experience in foreign affairs. But that didn’t compare to the squabbling over who had been in how many picket lines.

We’ll remember this night as the one where the Democrats tried to turn as many questions as possible into how they supported what’s left of the unions. But organized labor has heard this same singing-to-the-choir before while fewer of the singers are union members. That’s my tortured way of saying that the movement has gotten stuck and membership has shrunk over decades along with the rights of workers. No shameless political platitude will change that.

And doing so can well mean hour after hour and sometimes day after day stuck in a sterile environment.

The only escape from the mind going numb is the futile attempt to outsmart the system and come up with alternative flights after yours are canceled. The only exercise involves trekking the miles between one terminal and the next in the desperate effort to get to the plane where you’ve been put on standby.

Of course, it’s only when you arrive out of breath at that new gate that you’re informed that the plane is a) overbooked or b) canceled because of mechanical problems or because the crew didn’t show up.

If by some fluke you do get to your destination, there’s a good chance your luggage will not. Let’s not overlook the fact that the principal way the industry increased its profit was by decreasing the “frills,” like an adequate staff to handle baggage, and for that matter all customer service.

I haven’t even mentioned the pleasure of the security line where we await an inspection from overburdened TSA officers who are often in a bad mood. And why not? Everyone else is.

The new slogan for the industry could well be “If you don’t like it, lump it.” And they may be on to something. Some travel by air is necessary. Much of it is not. Maybe we need to stay closer to home. What I’m really suggesting is a modified boycott. Maybe the abused airline traveler needs a slogan. How about “Airlines: Go to Hell”? After all, it’s been hell for the passenger.

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