Soon most of us will be enjoying the three day Labor Day weekend. We should never take long weekends for granted because America’s wealthy and corporations didn’t voluntarily agree to this reform. Instead, America’s workers fought hard for holiday weekends and other benefits we assume we will always enjoy. We can’t be complacent because unions have been under assault by the GOP and the top 1% since Ronald Reagan fired the members of the air traffic controllers union in 1981. (Incidentally, this union endorsed Reagan in 1980).
Due to this unprovoked attack, one of the most unfairly maligned institutions today are labor unions. We constantly hear the right wing say that they aren’t necessary anymore and many of them even go so far as to describe union members as “thugs.” In reality, unions are the only check and balance on the political and economic power of the corporations and the wealthy. Among other things, union members are policemen, firefighters, teachers, nurses, construction workers, hotel workers, professional athletes, and autoworkers. Union members are our family members, friends, and neighbors.
Those union workers who are being unfairly attacked by the wealthy and well connected have compiled numerous achievements that have benefited the middle class and America as a whole:
- The five-day work week.
- Fair wages and relative economic equality – unions raise average wages for their members and they also indirectly raise wages for similar non-union workers.
- The minimum wage.
- The end of child labor.
- Widespread employer based health coverage.
- Occupational safety.
- Workers compensation.
- Overtime pay.
- Retirement pension plans.
- Maternity leave.
Unions haven’t only conferred these valuable economic benefits on millions of Americans, they also give the middle class an important voice in the governance of our country. Every election cycle, unions turn out millions of voters to support candidates at all levels who support the middle class and the poor. The only way to counteract the vast wealth of the top 1% is for unions to be able to continue to turn out voters and fund candidates who support working families.
Because unions are the only check and balance on corporate power, Republican elected official at all levels have done everything they can to take away our rights to participate in the political process and further tilt the playing field in favor of the super wealthy. In states like Wisconsin and Ohio, so-called “limited government conservatives” have used the power of big government to break up unions and take away our First Amendment rights.
These relentless attacks on working families over the last 35 years have had negative, real world effects on most Americans. Union membership has declined from a peak of 30% in 1960 to approximately 11% today.
The economic impact of this decline in union membership is disturbing. We have seen an economically stagnant middle class, a steady reduction of job-related health and retirement benefits and ever rising economic inequality. When labor was at its numerical peak around 1960, the wealthiest 10% earned 33% of the nation’s income. By 2007, with the labor movement greatly diminished, the wealthiest 10% grabbed 50% of the nation’s income.
In 2018, like every election cycle, workers’ rights will be on the ballot. Donald Trump – like just about every Republican – is committed to the destruction of the unions. As a business owner, Trump has broken up unions and done everything he can to block workers’ rights to collectively bargain. Trump got wealthy – in part – by stiffing his middle class workers and vendors. He would do to the American middle class what he did to his employees.
The future of collective bargaining is on the ballot next year in Nebraska as well. Pete Ricketts and his billionaire allies are committed to ending collective bargaining for civil servants in Nebraska. As a matter of fact, one of Ricketts’ key political allies and mentors is Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker – who destroyed the public employees’ unions in the Badger State.
As Democrats, we must do everything we can in 2018 to elect more Democrats at all levels. We must also get the message out to our family, friends and civic groups to which we belong that unions are good for the middle class and good for America. We must do everything we can to counter the pervasive and false propaganda about unions coming from the corporations and their allies in the GOP and the right wing media. We must also continue to work for candidates who support working families. If the union movement dies out, America’s middle class dies with it. The stakes are that high.