Don't want to be Danny Downer here, but there's not much for American workers to celebrate this Labor Day. The economy remains a twisted mess at a time when only about twelve percent of workers are dues-paying members of a labor union. That gives Labor precious little leverage on the economic or employment fronts, as Big Business continues to have all the pent-up capital and capacity, but none of the stand-up integrity or willingness to shift the engine of national economic recovery out of Neutral.
Imagine the effect on recession and unemployment if the nation's largest corporations brought most of their outsourced jobs, operations and spending back to American shores once and for all. Sure, their costs would go up, and their profits would go down some. But profits would still remain enormous, and the healing effect on millions of battered and beaten-down Americans would be nothing less than transformational.
Once those Big Businesses started spending here at home again, everybody else would follow suit, in time. We might even have to worry about inflation before too long, a risk that nine out of ten Americans would be more than willing to take at this stage of the game.
But without a powerful labor movement, without a federal government willing and/or able to force the issue, Big Business has gone in the opposite direction, bailing out on the American economy to maximize profits drive up Wall Street valuations, and punish a presidential administration they don't like.
A strong labor movement with a significant level of national membership and economic policy influence could have made a big difference in recent years. Just as in the Depression of the 1930s, Labor could have acted as a clout-wielding, constructive force that worked together with the federal government and Big Business to avert this latest economic and employment crisis.
If you think unions are unwilling to work in such constructive, collaborative fashion with employers, think again. The prevailing trend in the labor movement for years now has been for unions to leave behind the adversarial model and seek ways of working together with willing employers to create win-win situations that benefit all parties in any given industry. Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, the biggest corporate players in the country are the least willing to cooperate.
If years of corporate-sponsored anti-union propaganda has you thinking that Labor doesn't really make that much difference for workers anymore, take a look at the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, for 2009, which show that "full time wage and salary workers" made almost thirty percent more each week than non-union workers.
But if you are simply fed up with this economy and job market and see a glimmer of hope in the return to a time when unions kept Big Business a little more in check, than you'll want to support the rights of unions to organize new workers and workplaces. You'll want to voice opposition to the status of "Right To Work" states like Florida, where law dictates that any employee can reap all the rewards of working for a unionized employer, without having to join the union or pay union dues. That's nothing more than a union-busting strategy, plain and simple, meant to impoverish unions and discourage new organizing.
And the strategy has worked out exactly as intended in places like Florida, where the percentage of union membership is under six percent, less than half the national average. And average wages are about 15 percent below the national average. And almost one in four citizens has no health insurance. And unemployment remains in double digits. And on and on and on.
The good news is that there is proposed legislation in Congress that would help even the playing field for unions, making it easier for them to organize and grow. It's called the Employee Free Choice Act, and it could be the game-changer that recalculates the current rotten equation that adds up to misery for so many millions. The bad news is that Big Business has effectively lobbied, attacked, advertised and bad-mouthed this legislation onto the legislative back burner... for now.
Labor Day 2011 will be the first one in a long time that workers can
truly celebrate, ushering in passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, a
new era of union growth, labor-management cooperation, and shared
American prosperity. After all, a working stiff has a right to dream
big dreams on this of all holidays. And with a ton of tenacity and lots
of angry phone calls to Congress, it needn't be an Impossible Dream either.