“A world of radical inequality doesn’t work.”
— United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard
While the nation discusses how to respond to the use of chemical weapons by Syria, America’s economic woes continue. The middle class and below is squeezed by wage stagnation; terrible inequality; humongous trade deficits that measure jobs, factories, service centers and profit centers being moved out of the country; employees afraid to speak up at work; declining public services; low-wage jobs replacing good-paying jobs; and the rest of the effects of the corporate/billionaire takeover of our economy and democracy.
“A few people have systematically taken the wealth all of us create.”
— AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.
Actually, these woes continue for 99 percent of Americans, not just the middle class and below. Things are amazingly great for 1 percent of Americans. And that is the problem. In a nutshell: Economic inequality is dividing America into a nation of a very few haves but largely consisting of have-nots.
“A world run by and for the 1 percent is not just wrong it doesn’t work.”
Joseph Stiglitz At AFL-CIO Convention — An Unequal Economy Just Doesn’t Work
At the AFL-CIO convention in Los Angeles the delegates are grappling with how to fight the inequality, low wages, offshoring, privatization and other effects of the corporate onslaught on democracy.
Economist Joseph Stiglitz addressed the convention Tuesday on the subject of inequality – the way wealth and income is concentrating at the very top while the rest of us fall behind. Stiglitz outlined what has caused the inequality, explained that the top 1 percent of income-makers now take home more than 20 percent of all of the nation’s income, and that all of the recovery of our economy since the crash – all of it – has gone to those in the top 10 percent.
Stiglitz set the stage by saying, “For too long, the hard-working and rule-abiding had seen their paychecks shrink or stay the same, while the rule-breakers raked in huge profits and wealth.”
Stiglitz continued, “For most Americans recession continues. 95 percent of the gains from 2009 to 2012 went to the upper 1 percent; the rest – the 99 percent – have never recovered.”
Stiglitz said that the “mindless cutbacks in public spending” are keeping our economy “sick” and “an economy where 99 percent of growth goes to 1 percent can only be called that – sick.”
Stiglitz explained that an economy that only works for a few actually doesn’t work at all. It eventually breaks down. “Our nation prospers because we prosper together.”
He went on to explain that we can do something about this inequality. “It is not like the weather, something that just happens to us. It is not the result of the laws of nature or the laws of economics. Rather, it is something that we create, by our policies, by what we do. We created this equality – chose it, really – with laws that weakened unions, that eroded our minimum wage to the lowest level, in real terms, since the 1950s, with laws that allowed CEOs to take a bigger slice of the corporate pie, bankruptcy laws that put Wall Street’s toxic innovations ahead of workers.”
Finally, Stiglitz explained why the labor movement has to move beyond just representing their certified membership and be leaders in addressing this inequality problem. “You are still a small fraction of America. But you are the largest group representing the vast majority of Americans who work hard and play by the rules.”
The AFL-CIO discussed and passed a series of resolutions designed to change the way labor has been addressing these problems. These resolutions are sending the AFL-CIO along a path of broadening their efforts to fight this inequality and represent all people who work instead of just members of certified unions.
First up, a resolution calls for “a major legislative campaign to reform federal and state labor laws to expand collective bargaining rights for all workers.” Resolution 1: Enacting Labor Laws That Address the Needs of All Workers in the United State
Another example of the effort to address the problems of inequality is the problems people have when they are not represented by unions. For example, if an organizing effort doesn’t pass, what about the up-to-49 percent who voted to have a union? What about workers in jobs that the law says are not eligible for collective bargaining?
Resolution 5: A Broad, Inclusive and Effective Labor Movement resolves to open up the labor movement to working people who are for one reason or another not able to be represented by a union.
The popular majority, of which union members are a key part, is fragmented in the face of global corporations and the 1 percent that controls a vast and increasing amount of wealth and threatens to seize control of our democracy.
The labor movement must be broad and inclusive. The labor movement cannot be confined within bargaining units defined by government agencies or limited to workplaces where a majority of employees votes “Yes” in the face of a ruthless campaign by their employer to deny them representation. The labor movement consists of all workers who want to take collective action to improve wages, hours and working conditions. Our unions must be open to all workers who want to join with us.
To accomplish this labor is going to take several steps, including developing several new pathways for workers to join the labor movement. These paths will include “affiliate unions,” “worker centers” and the AFL-CIO’s affiliate Working America.