Dec 26, 2008
Are unions dead in this country? Are over a hundred years of courageous labor struggles—struggles the working men and women had to wage against their own government as much as against their bosses—now history, only history?
Thirty-five years ago, a quarter of all nonagricultural workers in the private sector were unionized; in 2007, that number was down to 7.5 percent. In private manufacturing, the picture is worse, going from 39 percent unionized workers in 1973 to just over 11 percent today.1
Meanwhile, when the auto industry collapses, it’s the greedy workers’ fault. Cut their pay, cut their benefits, whittle them down as close to nothing as we can. Is education in trouble in this country? Then it’s the greedy teachers’ fault. Bust their selfish union, destroy public education in the only country that attained greatness through that institution.
Bob Herbert wrote in his column this week, “The economic downturn, however severe, should not be used as an excuse to send American workers on a race to the bottom, where previously middle-class occupations take a sweatshop’s approach to pay and benefits.“2
Yet that is exactly what is happening, as is explicated in Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.3 Whether they use the worst days of the Iraq war to hand over Iraq’s oil reserves to Shell and BP; take advantage of the Southeast Asian tsunami to auction off the beaches to tourist resorts; or “capitalize” on the tragedy of Katrina to destroy public housing and public education in New Orleans, the corporatocracy that controls this nation uses every disaster to further line its pockets at the expense of the population.
The current fiscal crisis is the biggest disaster of them all, and everywhere we look, we see the corporatocracy taking advantage of it, from the massive giveaways to the banking executives, to the pressures on working and middle-class Americans to take less and less of a piece of the pie that they have fought for and earned over and over. Have we made concessions until we are blue in the face? New hires at the Big Three are now paid slightly over $14 an hour.
Is there a silver lining? The tiniest one imaginable. The only year between 1973 and 2007 when union membership increased rather than fell was 2007, when it went up one tenth of one percent.
The ball is in our court. The vote is in our hands. This country can devote itself to the well-being of the greatest number, rather than the fewest. It can be done. It must be done. We can do it.
1 Index of Tables: Union Membership and Coverage, from Georgia State University, accessed December 23, 2008, as are the other sites in these footnotes.
2 A Race to the Bottom, by Bob Herbert, from the New York Times, December 22, 2008
3 The Shock Doctrine, from Amazon.com
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