A stable US is important to all of us. A very imperfect democracy but nonetheless by far the most important, it is the central pillar of global liberty.
Recently that pillar has been looking shaky. The election of the neo-fascist Donald Trump in 2016 and the threat of his return in 2024 should give any democrat the jitters.
The election of Trump’s election and his continued popularity (he owns the Republican Party) was due largely to the growing inequality in the country, particularly the decline of the working class. In the 1960s, blue-collar workers considered themselves middle class and extremes of wealth were far less. CEOs were paid 15 times as much as their average workers, today more than 200 times as much, while workers incomes have stagnated or declined.
A major reason for the loss of income and status for workers has been the decline in the influence of labour unions, a powerful force for equality. As blue collar jobs declined, due to globalization and off-shoring, so did unionization. In 1970, unions represented 29 percent of private-sector workers, today six percent.
With the decline of unions, workers were paid less, lost health care and retirement benefits, and control over their work times. They were robbed of dignity and fell prey to despair from drugs and alcohol..
But now it seems union power is resurgent, fuelled by the highest public approval of unions since 1965, topped off by an historical first—a president walking the picket line.
Unions have seen a series of impressive victories: the Teamsters winning an historic collective agreement with UPS; health care workers winning a 21 percent wage increase after the largest health care strike in US history against Kaiser Permanente; the Writers Guild winning a deal with the Hollywood studios that included wage increases and negotiation on topics the studios were previously unwilling to discuss.
And, most recently, yet another historic victory, the agreement won by the United Auto Workers (UAW) with the automobile companies. The win included the largest pay increases in decades, the restoration of automatic cost-of-living adjustments, and the effective elimination of a two-tier pay system. And looking to the future, the companies made significant concessions on unionizing their electric-vehicle plants.
According to Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor historian at the University of California, Santa Barbara, “It is a historic and transformative victory by the UAW.”
UAW leader Shawn Fain is rallying others to the cause. “We invite unions around the country to align your contract expirations with our own,” he said, and added “If we’re going to truly take on the billionaire class and rebuild the economy so that it starts to work for the benefit of the many and not the few then it’s important that we not only strike, but that we strike together.”
His cry for solidarity, fighting for “the entire working class,” is reminiscent of the glory days of unionism. And indeed labor experts said the proposals that union negotiators agreed to with the auto companies had produced gains that could reverberate well beyond the automobile industry. The Writers Guild agreement broke with employers’ typical insistence that management should have control over technology and investment decisions, something the left has long sought.
Organized labor has an unmatched record in reducing economic inequality. It has also been a major player in advancing social issues, advocating for such policies as early childhood education, child care and a higher minimum wage. Furthermore, higher wages for union members spill over and raise earnings for nonunion workers.
These union successes offer promise of a more equitable America, and therefore a more stable America. They could hardly have come at a more important time.