By Robert L. Borosage

This Labor Day, Let’s Give Workers Something To Cheer About

August 29, 2014 12:58 pm Category: Economy, Memo Pad, Politics 35 Comments A+ / A-
This Labor Day, Let’s Give Workers Something To Cheer About

Labor Day is supposed to be a celebration of workers, but it’s been a long time since workers have been celebrated — or for that matter, have had a reason to celebrate. That’s because the union movement that gave us this holiday is, at least numerically, a shadow of its former self.

If we really want to give workers something to cheer about, we need to revitalize unions.

Source: Campaign for America's Future
It’s no coincidence that prosperity was widely shared when unions were at the height of their power in the decades after World War II, and that inequality has soared as unions have been weakened.

That’s what I conclude in Inequality: Rebuilding the Middle Class Requires Reviving Strong Unions, a new Campaign for America’s Future report. My analysis tracks the simultaneous decline in the power of the labor movement and the fortunes of middle-class workers. It makes the case in simple terms.

One chart reinforces the point. It compares union membership with the share of income going to the top 10 percent since the 1920s. When only 1 in 10 workers belonged to unions in the early 1930s, the richest 10 percent pocketed nearly half of the nation’s income.

Then President Franklin D. Roosevelt began a set of bold New Deal initiatives that dramatically increased the power of workers to join unions and bargain collectively. The share of workers who were unionized rose to about one-third by the late 1940s. At that point, the bottom 90 percent saw a significant increase in their share of national income.

Today, as union membership declines to low levels last seen in the 1920s, the share of national income going to the top 10 percent is rising — to levels not seen since then either.

Combine that with lackluster economic growth and you get the result chronicled in an August report by Sentier Research. As The New York Times reported, Sentier found that median incomes, when adjusted for inflation, had fallen 3.1 percent since 2009. They remain significantly below what they were in 2000.

A corporate-driven propaganda campaign has for decades blamed labor unions for saddling American corporations with burdens that made them uncompetitive in the global economy.

That has proven to be cover for dismantling the forces that kept corporations from rigging the economic rules in their favor. When corporate power was kept in check by union power, workers and corporations at least had a fighting chance to prosper together. Without that check, workers are losing. As wages erode, benefits disappear, work conditions become harsher and jobs themselves become more unstable.

The good news is that a combination of worker-activist movements and bold political leadership is setting the stage for a potential resurgence of the labor movement. In Los Angeles and other cities, newly elected pro-labor officials are making companies that benefit from local zoning or contracts pay a living wage and accept unions when a majority of workers indicate they want one.

Across the United States, fast-food worker strikes are fueling state and municipal minimum-wage increases while injecting new energy and ideas to worker organizing efforts.

President Barack Obama has used executive orders to raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers and require adherence to basic fair labor standards, including the right to organize. These orders could have effects that ripple through to private sector workers.

Labor Day would live up to its purpose if it not only gave workers a temporary respite from the rigors of their jobs, but also drove a national effort to empower workers once again to rebalance the economic scales so that we can rebuild a growing, stable middle class. It needs to be a day on, not a day off, in the effort to reclaim the American dream for working people.

Robert Borosage is the co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future, a center for ideas and action that works to build an enduring majority for progressive change.

Cross-posted from Other Words.

Photo: peoplesworld via Flickr

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This Labor Day, Let’s Give Workers Something To Cheer About Reviewed by on . Labor Day is supposed to be a celebration of workers, but it’s been a long time since workers have been celebrated — or for that matter, have had a reason to ce Labor Day is supposed to be a celebration of workers, but it’s been a long time since workers have been celebrated — or for that matter, have had a reason to ce Rating: 0

More by Robert L. Borosage



  • ps0rjl

    Unions allowed workers to join the middle class. Unfortunately since Reagan dismantled the air controllers union we have had a steady decline in union membership. Couple that with many children of union members going to college and forgetting their roots and that is why we are in the position we are now. Corporations like to talk about globalization but why are union workers prospering in Europe and we are falling behind? Instead of labor/wages racing to the bottom in globalization, they should instead be rising in those countries where they are low.

    • Whatmeworry

      The graph shows it happened under Kennedy

      • Independent1

        Not what I see – the red line starts back up representing income shifting to the upper 10% after 1978 – actually around 1981 when Reagan took office- The decline in union membership started earlier but the inequality shift started with Reagan. He was a double whammy – increasing the decline in union membership and cutting the max tax rate in half starting the sharp shift in income inequality.

        • Whatmeworry

          I hope your Obamacare Plan has vison coverage

        • charleo1

          That’s the way they’ve got ‘em trained. Can’t refute
          the facts? Get all snarky, whilst whistling past the graveyard of the once mighty Middle Class. I find it
          absolutely ridiculous, that a group gets spittle spewing apoplectic, about immigrants coming here.
          Because they think the immigrant is depressing wages, and taking American jobs. But, millions of jobs
          can be outsourced to Asia, where the wage comparison equals an entire month’s pay there, to a little more than a day’s minimum wage here. And the reaction is, well, American Labor, “Needs to get more efficient.” We need to get rid of those unions, making unrealistic demands! Healthcare, without the Right’s consent? On our wonderful job creators, the Socialists are driving out of the Country? I’m waiting to wake one morning and find the goose stepping has started up again. And the Koch Brothers are de-fluoridating the water supply.

      • charleo1

        You still admit it happened. And you believe it’s a good thing,
        or a bad thing? Do you believe that having less union workers had nothing to do with the greatest redistribution of wealth in history, from the Middle Class to the top 10%, in a little less than 50 years? A little to do with it? Or, do you see a direct correlation between the decline of union representation, and the share of wealth flowing out of the pockets of workers, and ending up in the hands of the top 10%? Do you see this as a result of a lazy unproductive labor force? Or, a case of labor having less power to bargain for better wages? Do you see simply acknowledging the fact that this economic event clearly has happened, as a sign you might be taken for a Communist? Because you believe only Communist worry about such things as declining wages, growing wealth inequality, and the social, and societal instabilities, and lack of public investment, such disparities in an economy cause? Or, do you trust that the ruling, monied aristocracy, do basically care for you, and your family’s well being? And all that’s really needed, is to just stop trying to tax, and regulate them. And they’ll do the right thing by their employees, and everyone else. They won’t pollute very much, or, make defective, or dangerous products. Will always pay voluntarily, what they see as a fair tax. And the magic free market will do all the rest? That is, if all the Liberal Democrats, the Socialists, and other, Anti-Capitalists groups, like the trade unions, would just leave them alone? Is that what I’m getting?

        • Whatmeworry

          The income redistribution was a direct result of unions killing the golden goose and Dem’s tax and spend programs that added $10T to the national debt in just 6 years not 50.
          This is a direct result of socialism and the same thing happened when Germany instituted socialism in the 1930’s. Its a economic model that has never worked but its the only plan that Dems have.
          Right now the avg new born faces a debt load of $150,000 each VS a debt of $3,000 under REagan

          • Independent1

            Pure hogwash!! Every word of it!!

            The 10T increase in our debt since Bush took office in 2001 IS ALL BUSH’S RESPONSIBILITY.

            There is no way you can put the blame on the increase in our debt on Obama, when he has cut deficit spending faster than any president since Truman and has been the smallest spending president since Eisenhower.

            The entire increase in our debt is the result of Bush Jr’ spending like a drunken sailor with 300-450 billion/yr of deficit spending outside his budget EVERY YEAR he was in office; and then passing along a totally destroyed economy with a final budget that included 1.4T in deficit spending to Obama.

            And here’s the graphs to prove it!!!!

          • Whatmeworry

            Another Obama apologist. The $10T in debt increase is thanks to Barak and the Dems.
            Cut the debt reducing it from $1.5T in red ink to $800B is hardly a cut in anyone’s lexicon other than the moron liberals.
            Smallest spending W left office and the federal spending was $2T since barak took office EVERY year has seen spending OVER $3T

          • Independent1

            And here’s one more graph on the Obama spending:

          • Whatmeworry

            Do you the slightest understanding as to what the data represents?? Obviously not

          • charleo1

            Well, you’re absolutely wrong. But, I gotta tell you,
            if you really believe what you just posted. My experience is, you’ll most likely believe it till you die.
            Not because it’s factual, it’s not. But because, for
            whatever, perhaps a totally unrelated issue. It’s some pieces of inaccurate information that appeal
            to you, and seem to reinforce an opinion not related
            to the subject at hand.

          • Whatmeworry

            You obviously have never read a paper or listen to a balanced news program. Turn off the State Run Media and do a little research

  • Rick Manners

    Labor is about a combination of conflicting values and solutions….Unions became very oppressive. ..not allowing others into job sites …refusing to work if demands were not met…Corporate then retaliated about the same time outsourcing became the rage

    • JPHALL

      Only a few unions. Most stood up for their members. The problem has been, and the same is true for minorities, they believed that times had changed and that fighting for yourself was no longer necessary. They forgot that laws must be enforced not merely enacted.

      The lies of the virtue of a post industrial America and “trickle down economics” are now exposed. Sitting and complaining will get you nothing. It is time to stand up like your fathers and grandfathers and demand a fair share of the economic pie.

      • Whatmeworry

        Take that up with Kennedy as the graph clearly shows

        • JPHALL

          Take what up with Kennedy? The slide begun in the 1950’s during the Ike administration.

          • Whatmeworry

            One year and then the real slide started with Bobby Kennedy he hated unions and went all in over Jimmy Hoffa

  • Dominick Vila

    Organized labor, like every other institution run by humans, has been guilty of excesses and abuses, but the benefits of their endeavors far outweigh their faults.
    Without unions, American workers would not have a w-week paid vacation, paid sick leave, paid bereavement, participation in 401k or Thrift plans, a 40-hour work week, overtime pay, or the ability to file a grievance and be heard when their rights are ignored or abused. Progress in the area of safety has also been achieved thanks to organized labor. Unions played a vital role in the emergence of a robust and prosperous middle class. The progress made in that area is rapidly evaporating with the demise or organized labor, the return of the company store mentality, and the acceptance of substandard employment as being better than no jobs in the richest country in the world.
    Yes, sometimes they have done things they shouldn’t have done, but aspiring to livable wages and a decent benefit package is not one of them.

  • ExRadioGuy15

    Okay, kids….I’ve been correctly saying for nearly 38 months that the GOP are Fascists. They’ve been completely Fascist since October 2001.
    What does the GOP being Fascists have anything to do with labor? Glad you asked, Sparky….
    There are two “DCs” (defining characteristics) of Fascism at play in the labor debate: labor power suppressed or eliminated and corporate power protected. Now, gee….which party is it that’s tried to bust all unions and have protected corporations with legislation and tax breaks? Oh, yeah! The GOP!
    And, before Firebaggers (Libertarians) and GOP Progressives/Moderates start spewing the False Equivalency argument: both parties clearly are NOT the same. Your talking point has been constantly and thoroughly debunked. Save your breath. (ExRadioGuy15)

  • Whatmeworry

    The author refuses to address the obvious. Why have all the good paying jobs gone over seas??? why the UNIONS that killed the golden goose

    • JPHALL

      No, the jobs went overseas because the so called Republican “job makers ” , like Romney, sent them there for great profit. The main reasons were cheap labor, less restrictions on what they could do, and no unions. The same people are now bringing jobs back with more automation because they feel that they have broken the unions.

      To many job seekers breed fear of job loss. The same jobs are coming back at cheaper wages, lower benefits and longer hours. Ain’t trickle down great.

      • Whatmeworry

        Nope the tax and spend crowd started the migration. WE have barak telling businesses to be patriotic and pay their fair share and yet he only pays 18% while he should be paying 33%

        • JPHALL

          I now see that you are another right wing loser who has no proof for his nutso statements. Goodbye.
          Subject: Re: New comment posted on This Labor Day, Let’ s Give Workers Something To Cheer About

          • Whatmeworry

            I See your another leftwing nut that doesn’t understand economics and is living in 1714 not 2014

        • Independent1

          The chart below shows clearly that the SPEND CROWD are the supposed conservatives, which they clearly ARE NOT!!

          Every GOP president since Nixon in his 2nd term has spent like drunken sailor and ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR more than 90% of our current 17T debt.

          When every one of the last 3 GOP presidents averaged more than double than annual percentage increases in spending that the Dems have, it’s pretty clear who are the absolute SPEND THRIFTS!! (As long as it’s on a credit card; on the national debt, and they don’t have to payback their fair share of it; which is why Republicans are always pushing for lower taxes; so when it comes to the point where they debt has to be passed back, most of the burden will be foisted on the middleclass and poor!!!!!!!

          • Whatmeworry

            Of course you ail to realize where the problem starts. Each of the time frames you mention the congress was run by DEM’s

    • charleo1

      Well, the author actually does address the corporate line, that unions drove businesses to outsource jobs off shore. Of course, if it was only the union jobs, and if our trade policies weren’t so lopsided, or, if the tax code didn’t incentivize companies to move off shore by reimbursing them for the costs of relocating. Or, the tax incentives to invest over seas, and create jobs there, weren’t exactly the same, as the incentives to invest here. With the on average off shore investment having, 3X the return of an investment here. This mostly due to the lower manufacturing costs in Asia. Which include workers with few, if any labor Rights. A monthly pay scale there, the equivalent of, $60.00 per month, U.S. Straight pay, no, Social Security, no health benefits, no worker’s compensation for injured workers, and no unemployment benefits. Few, if any, job safety inspections. With workers often exposed to toxic chemicals, and dangerous equipment. And often lax environmental regulations, allow factories to dump their by-product, or waste in the nearest river, or water supply. And, not finally, but further, since there are no retirement plans, no 401Ks, no company pensions, certainly, children are required by law, to feed, and care for their elderly, or injured parents, for life. And, often work along side their parents, forgoing school, and of course, just being a kid. In other words a Corporate Capitalist’s Utopia. Or, one could rightly say, a picture of America a century or so ago. Before workers, demanded to collectively bargain for better pay, and safer working conditions, risk a beating, or worse, by company hired thugs, or in some cases the U.S. military. And, they also stared down starvation, and loss of shelter, as both the company script they were paid in, and the housing in which they lived, were both owned by the company. And they did this, were willing to take such risks, because in America, in the supposedly freest Nation in the World, they were, for all intents and purposes, perpetual slaves. And we do ourselves no favors, when we take for granted the gains these men, and women too, risk their lives to attain the standard of living we Americans have been able to have. And, we’re fools, if we don’t cast our eyes over seas, and see for ourselves the capacity for cruelty, many of our, benign looking, “happy faced,” corporations are still as capable of today, as they were a 100 years ago, when allowed to be. And to dismiss this, as many foolish, and uninformed Americans are, as simply as matter of union misconduct, or corruption, and or, unreasonable demands. Or, unions support Democrats, and I’m a Republican. Well, that’s just not good enough. And it sure a heck don’t’t account for what is really going on. Which in many ways, it is not hyperbole to say, is the wholesale selling out, of not only America’s labor force, but of America itself. There’s one thing we know for sure. We cannot remain an economic super power on the backs of the minimum wages of employees at Walmart, or Burger King. The President the other day said, corporations moving their P.O. Box out of the Country to dodge some taxes, wasn’t very patriotic. Well, a fund raising Congress that sits there, bought and paid for, and refuses to stop it, isn’t very patriotic either, Mr. President. Happy Labor Day.

      • Whatmeworry

        Your POINT??? Lots of words that say that we are in a world economy and either are workers either become more efficient to compete or just roll over and die

        • charleo1

          Do you even listen to yourself? If you don’t want to be
          played for a complete fool, then you need to educate
          yourself. Start with asking yourself, how would a worker in the U.S. compete with over seas labor? Working 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, and paid
          $60.00 a month? Just roll over, and die? You’d better
          wake up buster. The time we can afford ideological
          goof balls in this Country, is at an end, is my point.

          • Whatmeworry

            Smoot Hawley caused the great depression and your fix is SH 2. Only a Socialist would think that the days of unions have passed.
            How would they compete? The days of blue collar union jobs in this country are over. The only place that unions exist today is in Govt where there is O competition. When Fed jobs have been competed in every case 60% of the jobs were eliminated because they weren’t needed.
            If you don’t have a trade or a degree your chances of doing anything other than minimum wage are also O.
            Its goons like you who hang on to yesterday who are out of touch

          • charleo1

            There’s free trade, and fair trade. And, you would
            need to know about our current trade policies to
            understand what I’m talking about. But, you’ve
            already rolled over, put your tail between your legs,
            and are happily licking their boots. And, can’t understand why everyone’s not eagerly gobbling down the same tripe..After all, it’s either Smoot-Hawley, or the one way lopsided shit we’ve got now.
            Isn’t that what they told you? Enacted by a bought, and paid for Congress that’s selling out the Country, threatening our long term security, and empowering the Chinese Communist. No,no don’t listen to me,
            I’m a Socialist. You go ahead, root for the powerful to get even more power. The rich to get even richer. And the next asshole politician that gets up and tells you America’s better days are over, vote for them.
            And if by some miracle they win. You can say, I didn’t understand. But, you can’t say no one tried to
            tell me.

          • Whatmeworry

            You should have complained when Clinton took the $$$ and changed the rules

    • Independent1

      Call up Romney and ask him why he partnered with his buddy Singer to buyout Delphi while Obama was trying to bailout the auto industry and destroy all the union jobs here in America, 25,000 of them and ship them all to China!! Go ahead, ask him!! As Charle has pointed out, Romney and his ilk are one of the big factors as to why millions of what were good paying union jobs are now overseas. Delphi, that was the auto industry’s largest small parts maker, now has almost 100,000 workers because the auto industry is back booming – but guess where those jobs are now!! Mostly in China and Mexico. And why? Because of MITT ROMNEY!!!!!!!!! America’s greatest job destroyer!!!

      • Whatmeworry

        Delphi had been for sale 1985. Union labor caused everyone of their products used in GM cars was 3-10 times more expensive.
        Those jobs had been outsourced EVERY year since 1985 mostly to mexico. Romney’s actions kept Delphi afloat without damaging stock holders unlike Barak who stole bondholders assets.
        Just as an aside how is Barak’s car doing?? You know the Volt… GM was supposed to be selling 250,000 a year

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