Labor Day 2018 – Business As Usual Will Not Work
August 31, 2018 by Andrew Baker
The 2016 Trump election, expanding income inequality, and deep dissatisfaction with the economy, notwithstanding historic low unemployment rates, signal troubled times, and times for big thinking and big action for change. This goes for labor unions more than any other institution in the country.
Partner with Natural Allies
Economic data continues to show that unionization boosts wages, and reduces income inequality, not only for union members but for non-union employees as well. In short, a successful union is a successful anti-poverty tool.
But as union density declines, so too does the positive effect of unionization on the non-union sector of the economy. So declining unionization is not just a problem for unions, but also a problem for other organizations focused on reducing poverty, increasing working class wages, and decreasing income inequality (both among classes and among races and genders) – churches, anti-poverty organizations, and anti-discrimination organizations. The power of these organizations when added to the power of labor unions increases the overall influence of labor and non-labor organizations alike.
To achieve labor’s goals – both short- and long-term – unions must reach out to and partner with their natural allies. Imagine picket lines with significant participation by church members. Imagine political initiatives co-sponsored by anti-discrimination organizations.
Think Outside the Box
- Strengthen Anti-Trust Laws. One of the major ingredients in declining union density and union power is the extraordinary growth in mega-corporations, huge corporations with vast wealth spread globally. Amazon, for example, now employs over half a million employees. The power of such enormous corporations makes it extremely difficult for any labor union to bring effective pressure to bear on them. These near-monopolies also repress employer competition for employees, and thus depress wages.
Amazon just purchased non-union Whole Foods (along with its 87,000 employees), and the Federal Trade Commission, the government agency charged with enforcing anti-trust laws, didn’t bat an eyelash.
To contain the power of large corporations, our anti-trust laws need to be beefed up and rigorously enforced. This is not a common theme for unions when seeking political initiatives or candidates to support – but it should be. And consumer organizations are natural allies for this.
- Universal Work Guarantee. Automation is on track to eliminate over 30% of all US jobs by 2030. A growing portion of those jobs that remain (in shrinking numbers) available to those who lack professional degrees or highly specialized skills have low pay, poor benefits, and erratic working hours. What’s to be done over the next several decades to create and maintain good jobs for Americans?
One solution slowly gaining traction among progressives is a “Universal Work Guarantee” or “Federal Jobs Program.” The idea behind the program is that the government would guarantee a job, one with decent wages and benefits, to anyone who can’t find a job or has lost her job. (The New Deal had a similar program, the Works Progress Administration.) Senator Kamala Harris is a co-sponsor of a bill that would experiment with this concept in targeted communities with high unemployment rates.
A jobs guarantee program would have profound ripple effects. Not only would it directly boost the living standards in all communities where the program is in effect, but when employees know they can get a job if they’re fired, those employees are going to be much more likely to blow the whistle on sexual predators and other forms of workplace discrimination, join a union organization drive, and go on strike for better wages and working conditions.
The idea of a Universal Work Guarantee is one that deserves serious attention from the labor community and its allies. It’s time to dream big and act big – before it’s too late.
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