I recall vividly my first union job. At the age of 16, I joined the Amalgamated Meat Cutters Union as a supermarket clerk. I remember the good wages in my first paycheck and the sense of pride I felt when I received my first union card.
Back then, about a quarter of all private sector workers were union members. Collective bargaining allowed us a path to a better life. The standard of living rose, not just for those of us in a union, but even for those who weren’t.
But today, too few workers have the right to bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions. Years of assaults by corporations on the freedom to join unions have taken a terrible toll.
As the protests rage on over Gov. Scott Walker’s politically motivated attempt to strip Wisconsin’s public workers of collective bargaining, there’s too little discussion in the media about the decline in bargaining rights for private sector workers. Instead, opportunistic politicians like Walker have used the current economic crisis to help further their agenda to divide the middle class.
As private sector unionization declined from 25 percent to about 7 percent today, a gargantuan share of our nation’s wealth has left the middle class and gone to the very wealthy. Today, the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans receives 25 percent of our nation’s total share of income, up from 8.9 percent in the 1970s. CEOs, who once made 40 times what rank and file workers made, now rake in 350 times that of the average worker.
Meanwhile, wages for most of us have stagnated or declined over the last decade. Big corporations and Wall Street are profiting off an economic meltdown they largely created while middle-class families suffer. Corporations made record profits in 2010, while doing nothing to create jobs or boost workers. Wall Street bonuses and compensation are up too. Last year, Wall Street firms – including those bailed out by taxpayers — gave out more than $20 billion in executive bonuses.
The attack on unions has a direct correlation to the massive income inequality we face today. Big corporations have turned their back on their workers by reducing wages, cutting benefits and union busting. It used to be that CEOs had a stake in their workers’ economic security. Now it’s all about corporate profit, which the vast majority of workers never benefit from.
The real issue in Wisconsin, Ohio and other states where workers’ rights are under assault isn’t state budgets. Public servants like teachers, nurses, bus drivers and firefighters are in no way responsible for the economic crisis battering our families. These attacks are all about the extreme right-wing and their corporate backers furthering their goal of destroying ALL unions and the middle class we advocate for.
If more workers had the freedom to join unions and bargain collectively, there’d be more wealth in the hands of the middle class. And we’d have a healthier society as a result.
That’s why what’s happening in Wisconsin and other states matters to all workers. If the right-wing extremists succeed in these attacks, corporate CEOs and the politicians they control will forever alter the playing field in their favor, and our once-thriving middle class will become just a footnote in the history of America’s decline.
That’s why every worker must join this fight. This is our moment to stand united to defend our values, and beat back these vicious attacks on our unions, our families and our ideals. Click here for more information and ways you can get involved.