Monday, July 2, 2012
No Unions, No Middle Class
By Caitlin Vega
When I look around, I see families struggling harder than ever just to get by. Foreclosed homes with "For Sale" signs up, thousands of workers standing in line to apply for a handful of jobs at McDonalds, those who lost jobs realizing there are none to be found. I see it in my family, among my friends, throughout my neighbourhood. The working people of California who once enjoyed a degree of economic security have seen it washed away in a tidal wave of hard times. This is not just anecdotal. The recent census numbers show the highest level of inequality on record. That means not only are working families suffering, but they are suffering alone. The wealthy, the banks, and the CEOs are all making record profits, while jobs disappear and aid to the poorest elderly and disabled is slashed.
Is this the world we want to live in?
If you are saying, "There’s gotta be a better way," you are right. There is one. It’s called the Labor Movement. A new study by the Center for American Progress confirms the cornerstone of our philosophy: unions are essential to creating a fair economy and rebuilding the middle class.
What the researchers found is that unions give workers a voice on the job and in the democratic process. This translates into wage and benefit gains, but also into policy changes that promote a fair economy.
As a result, the study found that every increase in the rate of unionization actually puts more money into the pockets of working people. Not surprisingly, inequality was at its lowest when union membership peaked. As unionization has declined over the past four decades, income inequality has skyrocketed.
As the researchers note, unions provide a counterpoint to corporate power, and when union influence is diminished, the path is clear for the Big Businesses to get their way every time. That’s why, in the midst of this fiscal crisis, there is bipartisan support for reducing the corporate tax rate, even while most large corporations pay NO federal taxes!
That’s why Republican Governors in a dozen states are going all-out in assaults against unions, backing bills to strip collective bargaining rights, eliminate secure pensions, strip away prevailing wage protections, and blame workers for the economic meltdown.
What they understand is that the Labor Movement is not an island, advocating just for our own members or our narrow self-interest. Instead, the Labor Movement is a force for social equality and democratic participation that benefits all workers.
Rather than watching thousands of laid off workers compete for a few hundred minimum wage jobs, we want to build a vibrant middle class. We want jobs that bring economic security so that the next generation can have greater opportunities and a better future.
That’s what we fight for and that’s why this fight should matter to everyone.
(Caitlin Vega is legislative advocate for the California Labor Federation.)