Haves and Have-Nots

Unions are the solution for the growing income gap

The stock market is booming and investors are getting rich. So why does everyone else feel so poor?

The answer is both simple to state and sad to contemplate. As the Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman recently pointed out, 95 percent of the gains from the economic recovery since 2009 have gone to 1 percent of the population.

“In fact,” Krugman wrote in The New York Times, “more than 60 percent of the gains went to the top 0.1 percent, people with annual incomes of more than $1.9 million.”

In the meantime, America’s middle and working classes are consigned to picking up the table scraps left by the feasting elites. We see employment levels inching up slowly, but the new jobs tend to pay much less than those that were lost in the Great Recession.

The result is a growing chasm between the haves and the have-nots.

As former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, now a professor at UC Berkeley, points out in his current documentary film, Inequality for All, 400 Americans now have more wealth than 150 million citizens who comprise the “bottom half” of the economy.

New aristocracy

We are in danger of becoming a society in which a small aristocratic nobility rules over a vast population of commoners. Didn’t we fight a revolution against that kind of system?

In his 2014 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama called attention to the growing crisis threatening the middle class. During his speech, he called for raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour. He also called for extending benefits for the long-term unemployed. And throughout his address he tossed around the buzzword “opportunity.”

That’s all well and good. We should support these initiatives wholeheartedly. Everybody is in favor of “opportunity.”  But the president failed to mention the obvious solution, which is to empower working people to assert themselves and claim their fair share of economic growth.

We can restate that solution in a single word: Unions.

We need to fix America’s labor laws to create more opportunities to join Unions so more workers can participate in collective bargaining and enjoy the benefits of Union contracts.

A proven solution

This worked spectacularly the last time our country dealt seriously with a crisis of the middle class. The National Labor Relations Act, passed in 1935 at the worst point of the Great Depression, facilitated a rapid expansion of Unions, which in turn led to a strong middle class and the richest economy the world has ever seen.

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt said “If I went to work in a factory, the first thing I'd do is join a Union,” he was demonstrating leadership that empowered a generation.

Unfortunately, American corporations and their advocates in government have devised ways to reverse the historic growth of Unions, leaving our work force weaker, fearful and progressively poorer. This must change if we want to achieve an economy for all of us, not just the super-rich.

A couple of years ago, many well meaning citizens chose to express their frustration over income inequality through the Occupy movement. Unfortunately, this movement had little focus and offered no comprehensive solution for the crisis. It had the effect of venting steam that could have been channeled toward fixing our broken system.

It’s time for Americans to gather together again, but this time with focus on such vital areas as pensions, health care and, above all, the right to organize, organize, organize.

As members of UFCW 8-Golden State already know, Solidarity Works!