Staudter: The State Of Labor
09/06/10 5:55PM By Kurt Staudter
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(HOST) This Labor Day, commentator Kurt Staudter is thinking about the state of labor in the U.S. today.
(STAUDTER) Unlike many bankers, Wall Street executives and the CEOs of our largest transnational corporations, the working men and women who toil day-to-day to make ends meet are still reeling from the Great Recession.
On this Labor Day 2010, I wish I could be the bearer of encouraging economic news, but all I can offer is the optimism that things can only get better.
For the last forty years, a class war has been waged against workers in this country, and our share of the wealth has dwindled accordingly. There was a time when one wage earner could provide for a family. Now two wage earners are hard pressed to keep their heads above water, let alone afford all the trappings of the American dream like home ownership or getting their kids through college debt free.
On this Labor Day 2010 I'd like to say that our unions are alive and well, but instead these vital institutions are struggling simply to preserve the status quo for a declining membership. No longer are unions pushing the limits of our collective prosperity to new and ever higher levels of economic justice. After the Great Depression the unions had a leading role in the lives of all workers, not just their members. Now today, they're no longer an important part of a broader social movement, and increasingly they exhibit the desperate behavior of something hunted.
In the 40s and 50s, union leaders were considered heroes and everyone knew their names. Today most Americans can't name a single union president.
Somewhere along the way our labor leaders came to be seen as part of the problem instead of the solution, and now, they represent such a small segment of the population as to be considered almost meaningless.
However, it doesn't have to be that way. In fact there are some very simple things that unions can do now that could lead to real prosperity in the future. First off, the biggest issue facing workers is ending the for-profit healthcare system that cripples our ability to begin any serious discussion about wages and benefits. One organization working hard on this front is the Vermont Workers Center and their Healthcare is a Human Right Campaign.
Next, even as flawed as they are now, labor unions still represent our best shot at winning back a larger share of the profits from our labor. We need to pass card check legislation that makes it easier to form a union. Right now most union organizing campaigns are crushed in their infancy through both legal and illegal means. With card check a simple majority of workers would force unconditional recognition by the employer.
Most people forget that Labor Day became a national holiday in the wake of the violence that ended the 1894 Pullman strike - a strike in which federal troops killed more than 30 workers. As often happens, many of us no longer remember Labor Day's original intent and meaning. It's a day set aside to honor the American workers who built this great nation with their sweat, and their blood, setting off a wave of prosperity that continues to sustain us today, even in these uncertain economic times.