Think the war against workers is only about union members? Think again.
One of the story lines that the anti-worker, corporate agenda is trying to sell is the idea that unions did a lot of good a long time ago but they are no longer needed because now we have laws. Well across this nation, anti-worker forces are not only trying to destroy collective bargaining rights, they have launched an all-out assault on the laws that protect all workers and their children. As a result, the political climate is worse now for working families than at any other time in recent history.
It’s not by accident. It’s by corporate design. In late 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court decided a case that granted corporations “personhood” meaning that multi-billion dollar corporations now have the right to spend billions on political candidates and they can talk to their employees about who to vote for and how it may affect their job. Sadly, there are few penalties in politics for misinforming voters or producing thinly-veiled threats.
Don’t be fooled. Corporations will not be spending millions on campaigns to support political candidates that want to increase your wages. They will be using their new political influence to funnel unlimited amounts to elect candidates who are strong supporters of corporate profits, corporate rights, and more corporate political power.
The political landscape has changed. The real political parties are Corporations and the Working Class. The pendulum of greed has swung to its furthest point; profit at any cost. The values of people, family, morality, service, decency, and compromise have all left the building. Regardless of cost, billionaires want to be trillionaires.
Without workers forming unions and unions fighting for laws, none of today’s protections would exist and there would be no balance of values for the working class. The facts are simple and powerful. Union workers are paid roughly $2.50 an hour more than workers who have no representation on the job. About 86 percent of union workers have access to health benefits through their job, compared with 60 percent of workers with no representation. In Montana, 80 percent of union workers have retirement plans compared to only 47 percent of workers with no representation. Union women earn almost 34 percent more than women with no representation.
How do unions help workers who don’t have a contract? They set market “norms” or “standards” for workers that become the achievement levels for other employers who want to compete for workers. Over time, the standards become common to employment packages and many forget that the benefits originated through unions. Some of these forgotten standards include overtime pay, sick leave, vacation leave, flex time, paid training and professional development, and compensation for workers injured on the job.
In addition, unions work to improve laws that secure these standards and a dignified quality of life for all working families, not just those who have the benefit of a union contract. Some of these laws include child labor laws, family medical leave act, social security, minimum wage, prevailing wage, civil rights act, occupational safety and health act, mine safety and health act, wrongful termination laws, age discrimination, veterans employment and training services, sexual harassment laws, Americans with disabilities act, military leave, equal pay act, public education for all children and more.
The fight against unions is a campaign to silence all workers. Our only defense is people power. For all of their money and misinformation, corporations don’t have votes. People do. Individual workers don’t typically have the power to help the working masses. Unions do. Laws aren’t permanent and with a weakened labor movement, there would be a devastating decrease in the quality of life for all workers.
This Labor Day I am issuing a challenge to all workers: Turn off Fox News, get active in the streets, and help us take back our country and return it to working family values. If we don’t, someday in the not-so-distant future, they’ll repeal Labor Day as the final step in erasing all memory of the American middle class.
(Al Ekblad is executive secretary of the Montana State AFL-CIO.)