No Unions, No Middle Class

madison protestsWhen I look around, I see families struggling harder than ever just to get by. Foreclosed homes with “For Sale” signs up, thousands of workers standing in line to apply for a handful of jobs at McDonalds, those who lost jobs realizing there are none to be found. I see it in my family, among my friends, throughout my neighborhood. The working people of California who once enjoyed a degree of economic security have seen it washed away in a tidal wave of hard times.This is not just anecdotal. The recent census numbers show the highest level of inequality on record.  That means not only are working families suffering, but they are suffering alone. The wealthy, the banks, and the CEOs are all making record profits, while jobs disappear and aid to the poorestelderly and disabled is slashed.Is this the world we want to live in?

If you are saying, “There’s gotta be a better way,” you are right. There is one. It’s called the Labor Movement. A new study by the Center for American Progress confirms the cornerstone of our philosophy: unions are essential to creating a fair economy and rebuilding the middle class.

What the researchers found is that unions give workers a voice on the job and in the democratic process. This translates into wage and benefit gains, but also into policy changes that promote a fair economy. As a result, the study found that every increase in the rate of unionization actually puts more money into the pockets of working people. Not surprisingly, inequality was at its lowest when union membership peaked. As unionization has declined over the past four decades, income inequality has skyrocketed.

As the researchers note, unions provide a counterpoint to corporate power, and when union influence is diminished, the path is clear for the Big Businesses to get their way every time.  That’s why, in the midst of this fiscal crisis, there is bipartisan support for reducing the corporate tax rate, even while most large corporations pay NO federal taxes!

That’s why Republican Governors in a dozen states are going all-out in assaults against unions, backing bills to strip collective bargaining rights, eliminate secure pensions, strip away prevailing wage protections, and blame workers for the economic meltdown.

caitlin vegaWhat they understand is that the Labor Movement is not an island, advocating just for our own members or our narrow self-interest. Instead, the Labor Movement is a force for social equality and democratic participation that benefits all workers.  Rather than watching thousands of laid off workers compete for a few hundred minimum wage jobs, we want to build a vibrant middle class. We want jobs that bring economic security so that the next generation can have greater opportunities and a better future. That’s what we fight for and that’s why this fight should matter to everyone.

Caitlin Vega
Labor’s Edge


  1. Richard Packard says

    Ms. Vega’s article, “No Unions, No Middle Class” reinforces my notion that the U.S. educational system over the last 40 years has suffered a terrible “dumbing-down” process. In addition to that people in the last two generations seem to be suffering from TMDAS (to much Disney animation syndrone), Ms. Vega ‘WAKE UP! In addition to the fact that you do not have a grasp on reality, vile politicians (Democrats and Republicans), individual and corporate greed, self-serving special-interest, a disillusioned and dumbed-down populace and a general disregard for integrity, honesty, perserverance and patriotism your article suggest that you’re living in “fantasy land”. The unions is one of the main “culprits” in chasing jobs out of the United States, the politicians (Democrats and Republicans) have contributed to this “flight of jobs” by their willingness to “sale” the American middle-class over for “free-trade” agreements, “cheap” foreign labor, and “open” U.S. markets to “foreign-made” products by American owned companies. The main contributor to this middle-class demise is the “dumbed-down” American people, in a sense they really can’t help themselves. They are the by-product of a failing educational system that has abandon the principles of “accountability, responsibility, integrity, honesty, patriotism, critical-thinking, problem-solving, perserverance” and “general concern” for their fellow citizen. A great majority of Americans can not tell you what is the “law-of-the-land” (U.S. Constitution), and a great deal more can not tell you how many amendments there are to the Constitution. When the “governed” don’t know the “rules” of their government, don’t engage in the process, or, don’t hold accountable those individuals who are elected to office, then they abdicate their rights to be treated fairly, honestly and justly. The issue before the American people “is not” about unions or non-union, Democrats or Republicans, black or white, or, rich and poor, the issue confronting us is RIGHT or WRONG! At every level and aspects of our American society are we willing to do the RIGHT THING for the GREATER GOOD?

  2. Ken Bear Cole says

    Fact: unions only represent 11% of workers.

    Private companies who choose union workers are spending their own money.

    Government unionized workers are paid from tax revenues. I believe that these unions should be abolished. These same workers are protected by Civil Servant Laws.

    If people are tired of being screwed by their employer, then they should start their own company. They will probably look at unions a little differently. Most new businesses who are started by union members hire non-union workers.

  3. Milan Moravec says

    Sustainable emloyment does not come from loalty to management or unions. As businesses, universities, states, counties, cities worldwide stumble through the recession some find themselves in a phase of creative disassembly. Hundreds of thousands of jobs are shed. World class University of California Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau ($500,000 salary) and his $3 million outside consultants is firing employees via his “Operational Excellence (OE)”: 2,000 axed by end 2011. Yet many cling to an old assumption: the implied, unwritten management-employee contract.

    Management promised work, upward progress for employees fitting in, employees accepted lower wages, performing in prescribed ways, sticking around. Longevity was good employer-employee relations; turnover a dysfunction. None of these assumptions apply in the 21 century economy. Businesses, universities, public institutions can no longer guarantee careers, even if they want to. Managements paralyzed themselves with a strategy of “success brings successes” rather than “successes brings failure’ and are now forced to break implied contract with employees – a contract nurtured by management that future can be controlled.

    Jettisoned employees are discovering that hard won knowledge earned while loyal is no longer desired in employment markets. What contract can employers, employees make with each other?

    The central idea is simple, powerful: job is a shared partnership.
    • Employers, employees face financial conditions together; longevity of partnership depends on how well customers, constituencies needs are met.
    • Neither management nor employee has future obligation to the other.
    • Organizations train people.
    • Employees create security they really need – skills, knowledge that creates employability in 21st century economies
    • The management-employee loyalty partnership can be dissolved without either party considering the other a traitor.

    Sustained employability in the 21st century economy for management and employees.

  4. garry walsh says

    Pigdog is just stating the obvious.I understand the corporations are paying trolls to surf progressive sites and attack whatever is said. Matthew Johnson is one of these.

  5. pigdog67 says

    The root cause is offshoring. Suppose a large American company with 300,000 employees offshores 80% of their workforce (that is a real number). That is 240,000 good paying jobs. Then there are all the support jobs in restaurants etc. So that tax base is now gone from America as it is the wage earners who pay 85% of the taxes in America. But since those jobs are gone the tax base is gone. Cutting corporate taxes will not reverse that, it will just give CEOs larger rewards for offshoring. Hence budget deficits at all levels. My theory is that most large multinationals over the last 30 years have offshored 80% of their workforces. Ford and IBM are such companies. I do not have data on all large multinationals.
    I am not quite sure what unions can do about this. This is a matter of requiring fair trade instead of free trade. Forcing balanced budgets in Washington oddly enough might make politicians realized they have lost there tax base. Hence there jobs are next. Balanced budgets will force them to find a tax base. Hence they will then have to promote ‘fair trade’ instead of free trade. That means forcing (by military means if necessary) China to raise their exchange rates.
    Another approach would be to enforce a minimum amount of employees to be American and resident in the USA say 51% otherwise the mulitnational loses its personhood status via the supreme court (not a US citizen as no residency within the country). Hence no access to American Pork via congress. No contracts from the US government for Ford Motor Company, IBM, or GE.

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