Museum Donors of the World Unite!

“Virginia Workers Have Benefited from Organized Labor,” proclaims the headline of a press release promoting a new exhibit at the Virginia Historical Society. The press release continues:

“For most people, unless they have someone in their family who has been a union member or has been very involved with union work, they have no idea how organized labor has shaped their working world today,” said William Rasmussen, lead curator at the Virginia Historical Society. “This exhibition will show visitors, especially young visitors, that there hasn’t always been a 40-hour work week, minimum wage, health benefits, and required lunch breaks. Thousands of Virginia workers—white, black, male, female, young, old—have sacrificed and suffered to give us the adequate, healthy, and safe working environment that most of us presently enjoy.”

I wonder if the exhibit will explore the role of the labor movement in cementing white working- class privilege of the expense of African-American workers. I’m guessing not.

I wonder if the exhibit will explore the relationship between rising wages/improving workplace conditions and rising labor productivity made possible through the investment of capital, entrepreneurial innovation and the free-market competition for workers. I’m guessing not.

I wonder if the exhibit will explain why the marketplace demand for organized labor in Virginia today is virtually nil, surviving for the most part in large industrial corporations with national ?

I hope to be proven wrong, thus pleasantly surprised, but judging by the press release, I’m surmising that the exhibit will push a traditional liberal narrative. An interesting point for some dogged investigator to pursue: Has the Virginia Historical Society become another cultural institution taken over by liberals and funded through the donations of an oblivious public? Has the Virginia Historical Society swung from one extreme to another, from romanticizing a flawed past to propagating an equally lopsided progressive narrative?

Just asking.

(Photo credit: Virginia Historical Society.)

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4 responses to “Museum Donors of the World Unite!”

  1. Gooze Views Avatar
    Gooze Views

    A few little problems with this post.
    First, plenty of modern day workers are organized such as the thousands at Newport News Shipbuilding, various pulp and paper mills and state and federal workers in NOVA.
    Secondly, the labor union movement has improved, not hurt, the lot of African-Americans because unions have demanded fair salaries and benefits for all of their members.If you think otherwise, please provide us with some evidence.

    Back in the textile mill days of the latter 19th century, Southern mill owners did try to pit poor whites against poor blacks, but then, they tried their damndest to keep unions out. So what's your evidence that somehow blacks have been hurt?

    Peter Galuszka

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    Labor, management, and capital are a troika: stunning when all are pulling in one direction.

    Unfortunately, given the adversarial relationships that have developed, it is simply wrong to suggest that one party or another has any claim to improving the lot of the next.

    Vast wealth has been assembled by pooling the contributions made by thousands of workers on modest salaries, and this is possible partly because management is organized on behalf of its own interests.

    Capital investment would be impossible or unprofitable without legions of workers to conduct the operations to make it so. Management earns its income by organizing capital and labor and the tasks to be performed, but the value added comes from performing those tasks.

    Every time I ask one of my workers to do something I know that it is something that I would not get done otherwise. They owe their income to my investment and my planning, and I owe my income to their labor. My capital is at risk and theirs is not, so the partnership is not equal, as in a troika, the center horse is larger, and operates at a trot while the others gallop, but it is a partnership just the same.


    I don't think there is any way to tell what the market demand for organized labor is in Virginia. As an emloyment at will state without even a covenant of fair dealing any employer is free to dismiss without cause any employee who attempts to organize. That sets a pretty high barrier.

    The status of being organized is pretty much a prerequisite for hiring an employee: if some employee wanted and employer who was not organized, he would be hard pressed to find one. But the reverse is not true: any employer who wants unorganized employees can have them by dismissing those who are or wish to be.

    The history of organized labor is still such that current workers benefit from changes in expectation: no one would expect to be offered a job without a lunch break today. But in a market without organized labor, one wonders how long before history reverses itself.

    On the other hand, the practice of making pament in stock options or the offer of ESOPS is an attempt to make employees feel more a part of management, small as that part may be.

  3. Groveton Avatar

    Labor has been organized in many different ways for centuries…

    Once upon a time construction in general and stone masonry in particular was a trade practiced by roving bands of "experts". The stone masons formed guilds to perpetuate their craft. One had to apprentice in order to become profecient.

    The Industrial Revolution in general and mass production in particular "de skilled" the labor required for construction, heavy manufacturing and other industries. Unionization was a logical way for labor to consolidate their "scarce resource".

    Today, however, the substitution is machines for labor rather than organized labor for disorganized labor.

    Unions are probably an anachronism.

  4. Anachronistinc in our time, maybe, but that won't change their historical significance.

    Meanwhile business imperatives have not changed. I remember a job interview, after which the job was obviously mine to have, if I wanted it. This company was famous for its long hours, and the hiring manager started in with the speach that says "We demand a lot from our employees…."

    Whereupon I stooped her and said, "look, I earn tens of thousands of dallars in my spare time. If you are telling me I won't have any spare time, then I'm going to expect to see that in my compensation offer."

    Needless to say, I didn't get the job, which was OK with me because I got a bad feeling about the place anyway. Turned out I was lucky because that was only a few months before Arthur Anderson went under.

    All of which is just to say that if they can get away with it, modern companies will still try to revert to sweat shop tactics.

    "Greed is Good"
    Gordon Gecko

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