By Serouj Aprahamian

http://www.asbarez.com/2009/05/20/ayf- lecture-highlights-the-long-struggle-for-workers-r ights/
May 20th, 2009

The eight-hour day, sick leave, paid vacation, maternity leave,
elimination of child labor, overtime pay, minimum wage laws, and
even the weekend-these are just a few of the many benefits that
society enjoys today thanks to the struggle of workers and the untold
sacrifices of the American labor movement.

In order to shed light on the history and goals of this important
movement, the Crescenta Valley "Zartonk" chapter of the Armenian Youth
Federation hosted a community lecture this past Sunday featuring
Dr. Ara Khanjian, Professor of Economics at Ventura College. This
discussion centered on the history of organized labor and was the first
installment in the chapter's "Blueprint for Progress" educational
series, an ongoing set of community lectures which will highlight
themes and issues stemming from a progressive agenda.

"Dr. Khanjian really exposed us all to a new issue, and his
presentation explored so many different facets of organized labor,"
said Aris Hovasapian, Chair of the AYF "Zartonk" Chapter. "I have no
doubt that everyone that was present learned something new about an
issue that is at the forefront of American politics."

The talk began with a review of some of the basic reasons behind why
workers organize. Dr. Khanjian noted how the essential interest of
employers is in maximizing their profit while employees, on the other
hand, seek to improve their wages and working conditions. Given their
relative powerlessness in comparison with those who hold the means to
employ them, workers soon realize the importance of coming together
and standing up for their rights through collective action. They form
unions to leverage their demands and defend their interests on a more
equal footing with those who control their workplace.

Given this empowering effect that organizing has on the working
masses, it is no surprise that employers tend to be naturally
antagonistic towards workers unionizing. Khanjian explained how
unions are seen as a threat to profit and are often fought tooth and
nail by employers. The cases of McDonald's and Wal-Mart eliminating
entire locations and departments simply due to unionizing efforts
were presented as illustrations of this often extreme hostility by
employers against any attempts by their workers to organize.

Indeed, this hostility has combined with a legacy of political
persecution of socialists and labor activists in this country-as
occurred during the infamous "Red Scare" of the 1950s-resulting
in one of the lowest rates of workplace unionization in the entire
industrial world.

"It's hard to ignore the alarming fact that only about 13% of
American laborers are a part of organized unions," said Sanan
Shirinian, a member of the "Zartonk" AYF who was in attendance for
the lecture. "This reality exemplifies the unjust distribution of
power in our workforce."

As Khanjian pointed out, this rate is especially abysmal when compared
to countries in Europe, where unionization sometimes reaches as high
70 to 80 percent of the workforce. Such differences are part of the
reason why people in the US work longer hours than most others in the
industrial world, yet enjoy only a fraction of the benefits and have
seen their real wages stagnate over the last 3 decades.

However, despite this comparative weakness of the American labor
movement today, workers in this country have long been at the
forefront of a host of important progressive achievements in areas
as diverse as workers' rights, civil liberties, consumer protection,
and civil rights. In fact, the well-known International Worker's
Day, celebrated annually on May 1st, originally developed as an
international commemoration of the Chicago Haymarket Massacre of 1886,
when American workers were gunned down by police during a strike for
the eight-hour day.

Being presented such rarely-known facts by Dr. Khanjian was one of the
most rewarding aspects of the evening for "Zartonk" AYF member Sanan
Haroun. "Using real-life examples, such as the Haymarket Tragedy or
the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, within his presentation was a
great method of connecting with the audience," said Haroun. "It was
the first time I was exposed to these issues and I find it crucial
for everyone to be aware of such matters. They directly or indirectly
affect everyone, no matter what career field they are in."

The presentation, throughout, also laid focus on one of the universal
tenets of the labor movement: solidarity. Unions show us that by
coming together with people of common interests, pooling resources,
and leveraging each other's success, you can do things otherwise
impossible and go a long way in making a difference for your
community. This basic point was summed up by the following African
proverb read to the audience by Dr. Khanjian: "If you want to go fast,
then go alone. If you want to go far, then go together."

During the question and answer period, these issues were further
expanded upon through a lively back and forth covering such topics as
labor standards in Armenia, the effect unions have on international
competitiveness and the stance of the ARF on organized labor in
general. These discussions carried on even past the question and
answer session, as AYF members and those in attendance talked about
what was presented over light snacks and refreshments.

Subsequent lectures in the Crescenta Valley "Zartonk" Chapter's
"Blueprint for Progress" educational series are scheduled for June 28,
July 26 and August 23. The topics to be presented include the civil
rights movement, environmental sustainability, and healthcare. For
more information, contact [email protected]