Friday, June 22, 2007

The Union, Jack

In today’s technologically advanced workplace, do we still need unions? Have unions lost their viability? There is debate going on concerning the Employee Free Choice Act and its impact on the American worker and economy.

The Employee Free Choice Act, would require employers to recognize a union if the majority of workers simply sign cards showing their support rather than hold a vote. It also strengthens penalties against employers that violate federal law against union organizing. There are many who argue that because of the loss of manufacturing and more physical type labor the need for unions has passed. I would submit that because of the weakening of the labor movement we have a shrinking manufacturing industry and a loss of middle-class opportunities.

Protecting the right to form unions is about maintaining the American middle class. It’s no coincidence that as union membership numbers fall there are growing numbers of jobs with low pay, poor benefits, and little to no security. More than half of U.S. workers—60 million—say they would join a union right now if they could. Why? They know that coming together to bargain with employers over wages, benefits, and working conditions is the best path to getting ahead. Workers who belong to unions earn 30 percent more than non-union workers, and are 63 percent more likely to have employer-provided health care. Without labor law reform, economic opportunity for America’s working families will continue to erode.[1]

Because of intimidation and media savvy consultants the major corporations have convinced a generation of workers that they did not need unions. They promoted how unions were corrupt and outdated; it is no surprise that as the populace became more self conscious (me generation and the greed generation) that the argument held sway with many younger workers. These workers were too young to remember the conditions that brought about the need for unions in the first place, the long hours, the unsafe working conditions, and the low wages of their parents and grandparents generations. Those were greedy robber barons back then the modern corporations would be more benevolent towards it workforce. Let’s ask the employees of Enron, Tyco, and a whole slew of other corporations how benevolent the modern corporation is.

Why has this happened? It’s not a result of a neutral, inevitable economic fact, like the sun setting in the west. It happens because corporations can get away with hogging the fruits of economic activity. It happens because politicians will not stand up and decry either the unfairness of the theft and the underlying corporate greed that siphons away workers’ deserved rewards.

And, sadly, it reflects the weak state of the labor movement. When unions are strong, everyone benefits—union and non-union workers alike. Through collective bargaining, unions act as a counterforce to an unjust diversion of income, creating a system that spreads out the rewards for hard work. Unions turn bad jobs and low wages into good jobs and decent livelihoods. The best middle-class jobs program is, indeed, mass unionization.

Let me make two side points here. First, when wages don’t grow, even when productivity is high, it undermines our nation’s retirement system. This is because taxes on workers wages are the central revenue source for the Social Security system. A key reason the 1983 Greenspan Commission’s modifications to the Social Security system came up short is precisely because wage growth did not match what had been forecasted more than two decades ago. “If wages had grown as the Commission forecast, and inequality had not increased we wouldn’t even have a Social Security shortfall over the next 75 years,” observes Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Weisbrot is quick to point out that the projected shortfall is quite small, and according to President Bush’s numbers, the program today is financially stronger than it has been throughout most of its 70-year history.

Second, the outsized corporate windfall from productivity works hand in hand with the other factor propelling the massive redistribution of income in society: Compensation and tax policies that are shifting vast wealth to the upper 10 percent of the population.[2]

It is nothing short of amazing how the wealthy have convinced our nation that welfare for corporations is good, but welfare for the poorest Americans is bad. That record profits for corporations and record salaries for executives is good, but minimum wages and wage increases for average workers is bad. How have we allowed ourselves to be co-opted into this outrageous scenario is beyond words. These things can only occur because we allow them to, while we are so busy fighting over crumbs they are stealing us blind. While we are so concerned with the color of the skin of the guy next to us in the same life boat we are in. Is that insane or what? As long as we continue to allow foolish things to divide us, we will never be able to overcome those who want to keep us all down. If you think that those in power are more concerned about your needs than mine because you are a different shade than me, you are sadly mistaken. There is only one color that matters and that is green. The middle-class has not shrunk because of illegal aliens from Mexico. The manufacturing base has not been outsourced because of unions. The country is not going to hell because of minorities. It is time to wake up and realize who the real enemy of the middle class is.

Have unions been corrupt in the past? Yes, but have they been anymore corrupt than their corporate cousins? There have been more workers who have had their retirements decimated by corporate malfeasance than union corruption. If we want to increase wages for average Americans and gain some semblance of job security, unions are our best bet. Unions help all workers, even non union workers. Unions are good for America.



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