Unions’ Demise Would be Bad News for Middle Class

I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of bad things about trade unions. Some of it is undoubtedly deserved.  But most of it is propaganda. For decades now, the conservative noise machine has been on a tear in America, building the case for the attack on unions that you are now witnessing.

For a lot of reasons, union membership has declined in America’s private sector, and is now well below 10 percent. But about a third of the workers in the public sector belong to unions. And that’s where the radical right is concentrating its assault.

If the attack succeeds, the effects will be dire.

Nearly all of the benefits enjoyed by the American middle class were won by unions. Non-union employers were obliged to match union benefits and wage increases to compete for skilled workers.

But as union membership declined, the income gap widened. And today, the disparity between rich and poor is shocking.

As the charts below illustrate, the bottom ninety percent of American wage earners make an average of $31,244 a year, while the top 1 percent make over $1.1 million. And the income of most workers has been at a near-standstill since 1979, while earnings for the top 1 percent have quadrupled.

So for those of us who value benefits like weekends and paid vacations, sick leave and employer provided pensions, the battle between the radical right and America’s unions has enormous implications.

For once the corporations and their political hacks break the unions, it won’t be long before working conditions in America deteriorate to the level of a Third World country.

As thepoet John Donne observed, ask not for whom the bell tolls.

When it tolls for organized labor, it tolls for you.