by Ralph Scharnau
Arguments about the importance of economic and social matters usually get resolved in legislative bodies. In democratic republics, the majority political party’s view ordinarily prevails.
In governing a city, county, state, region, or nation, lawmakers address a wide range of interrelated social and economic issues. In their deliberations, political power of the wealthy elite usually decides the outcome. Yet the professed goal of promoting the common good should put people first, not profits.
Our labor creates goods and services that drive the economy. It is work, moreover, that gives us our identity and provides us with income to pay our living expenses. Workers play the key economic role, operating as producers, consumers, and taxpayers.
Nonetheless, millions of people find themselves struggling to pay bills and put food on the table. Since the 1940s, there has been a decline in the status of American workers, including the erosion of white-collar and blue-collar jobs.
Wage stagnation has been evident since the mid-1980s. Today more and more people work two or even three jobs to pay for food, housing, child care, and transportation.
Today, inequality deepens and continues to ravage American workers. Inequality in America has reached a point where there are only two distinct groups, the rich and the rest.
Over the last generation, more and more of the rewards of growth have gone to the rich and superrich. The rest of America, from the poor through the upper middle class, has fallen further and further behind. The past two decades has witnessed a hyper-concentration of wealth at the top, creating a monied oligarchy living in a trickle-up economy.
By contrast, trade unions stand with the working class. Organized labor collectively bargains with management about wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment. Unions advocate for decent compensation, hours, and working conditions for all workers. Those in the labor force with a union contract usually enjoy better and fairer treatment than the unorganized laborers.
Trade unions face a number of challenges. Wage theft, for example, takes many forms: forced to work off the clock, misclassification of job, making unauthorized pay deduct*ion, paying less than minimum wage, failure to pay overtime.
Today. only about 12% of the U.S. workforce belong to trade unions. Organized labor’s decades-long decline has resulted in the erosion of good jobs and growing income inequality. Unions defend workers’ rights in the workplace and in the street, at legislative chambers and at ballot boxes.
Unions today reflect the diversity of the nation’s population in terms of race, ethnicity, and gender. Women today are more visible in the workforce and in the union movement. Their pay, health care, and legal rights still lag behind that of white males. But their voices are increasingly heard in the public arena.
Unions also take leading roles in a number of other ways. They advocate for public aid to education, promote civil rights for all, call for affordable housing, demand universal legal rights, support health care for everyone, and sponsor other programs important to whole communities everywhere.
Throughout history, unions faced hostility not only from employers but also from conservative politicians. Some employers even want to eliminate workers’ right to organize as a union. They hire union-busting law firms. Workers fight back with street demonstrations, strikes, and lobbying.
Workers are the backbone of our nation. And all people should have access to a decent standard of living with living wages, decent housing, and humane working conditions regardless of their skin color, sexual orientation, or economic status.
June 4, 2020