I know that for some of you reading this, tending perhaps toward the right side of the political spectrum, the word "union" has a negative connotation. At various times in our country's history, the image of organized labor has been portrayed as "un-American" (We are, after all, a nation of rugged individuals, not armies of workers), and at times even communistic (Marx wrote that the workers of the world would one day unite).
My feeling as a citizen of this nation, as a long-standing member of a union and as a history teacher for 35 years, is that unions are absolutely necessary. Our nation's history is rife with examples of labor exploitation — children working 15 hours a day in hazardous conditions, women paid next to nothing for their labors, decent wages and basic benefits being denied or summarily reduced by owners, and management looking only to their bottom line while caring little for the people whose labor produced it.
That being said, there are also plenty of examples of unions exercising their own kind of tyranny by virtue of the numbers they control. In general, I believe that unions stray from their original and primary purpose by endorsing candidates and getting involved in political issues. The public's perception of organized labor is often of monolithic organizations with its members herded into lock-step compliance with central edicts and party lines.
I will never subscribe to the notion that any organization speaks for me in matters of politics. I speak for myself.
My union is there to fight for my basic rights, a fair wage and decent benefits. Period.
When I disagree with the decisions that are made by my union leaders, I should feel free to voice them instead of being chastised for having broken with the ranks.