We need unions. North American society would have never developed a middle class in the 20th century but for the creation of unions and support for their struggles.
Consider some of the compelling facts outlined in “The Trouble With Billionaires” by Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks, which I have summaried below.
- by the early 1900′s, the US had become a highly stratified, top-heavy society dominated by a few dozen, incredibly wealthy “robber barons.” Ferdinand Lundberg captured the extent of this economic concentration in his book: “America’s 60 Families.” A mere 60 families owned and controlled the vast majority of the country’s wealth.
- although the 1920′s saw significant technological advances (and financial gains for corporate owners), workers were in such a weak bargaining position that they were unable to demand a meaningful share of these gains. From 1919 to 1929, worker output in manufacturing rose by 43%, by wages by only 8%. The gains of the improved worker productivity mostly all flowed directly into corporate coffers.
- FDR started a new, labour friendly era in 1935 (after the Crash) with the Fair Labour Relations Act to ensure workers had the right to organize and bargain collectively. Union gains (United Auto Workers in particular) served to push up wages across the entire economy.
- The early post-WWII era was one of restrained banking, reduced incomes for the super rich, and a rising middle class; and, it was a time of extraordinary economic growth and prosperity. Government came to enjoy respect as a central and beneficial force in society. The notion developed that there is such as thing as the public interest, and government has an obligation to serve it.
But there have always been those interests who have been wanting to undo the post-war deal that benefited workers. They watched and waited and, by the 1980s were able to make in-roads (i.e., get Reagan elected) that have seen a broad resurgence of excessively wealthy interests in the ensuing years…leaving labour and ordinary working people ever more marginalized. The clout and income of workers has done nothing but decline.
Now we are right back into a “robber baron” era. In 2009 the top 25 hedge fund managers (who are basically gamblers in the casino that is Wall Street) made, on average, incomes 24,000 times that of the average American. The top earning 1% of Americans enjoys a whopping 24% of the national income, according to McQuaig and Brooks.
Obscenely rich financial interests dominate in North America. They have inappropriate and disproportionate influence over the political process.
You might not like unions, but there is nothing else currently in existence that stands a chance against the resurgence of greedy corporate interests that cares nothing for “the little people.”
I have been a government union member. I resented paying the dues. I saw how often the union rules/protections were abused by some workers, and how the collective agreement served to protect mediocrity at times. But those union ”abuses”, if you want to call them that, are nothing compared to what awaits workers and the shrinking middle class, if the current union-busting efforts in the States actually prevail.
People are going to yelp that unions are big, rich “businesses” and serve limited, special interests just as much as the corporate interests. Considering the fight unions have on their hands, I hope to high heaven they DO have well-funded coffers. Someone has to oppose the highjacking of North America’s political and financial systems – it is going to take a Goliath to fight a Goliath.
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