Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., Aug. 23, 24 or 25
Organized labor is increasingly portrayed as part of the problem with the U.S. economy. The building trades are criticized for working under Project Labor Agreements that ensure efficient, timely and cost-effective construction projects by guaranteeing no work stoppages and ways to resolve disputes, paying prevailing wages to local skilled workers; public employees are blasted for expecting pensions they’d been promised as deferred compensation.
Unions actually are part of the solution.
Labor Day is ahead, but this week has other, equally significant dates in history reminding Americans of labor’s great role in building the nation. August 24 is the 185th anniversary of the country’s first labor newspaper, the Mechanic’s Gazette; August 25 is the 87th anniversary of the first predominantly African-American union, the influential Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; August 26 is the 92nd anniversary of the certification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees women the right to vote, a right labor fought for.
Today, the best way to solve the too-slow recovery from the Great Recession is to grow the middle class rather than allowing wealth to concentrate in fewer hands, according to Columbia University professor Dorian Warren and Maryland Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley. They say that unions will play a vital role economically and politically in rebuilding a strong middle class.
Maryland ranks in the top 10 in U.S. job creation, has a AAA bond rating, and boasts the nation’s highest median income, demonstrating that economic prosperity is "achieved by a partnership with unions, not by scapegoating labor,” O’Malley said.
“We don’t see unions as an impediment to growth,” he continued. “Organized labor helps us grow and maintain balance, invest in skills of the workforce, and ensure people receive a decent wage for a decent day’s work.”
O'Malley and Warren were responding to Republican lawmakers’ ongoing attacks on workers and their unions.
Indeed, the era from the late 1940s through 1973 – when one in three working people had a voice on the job – the nation had the smallest economic gap ever between rich and poor, Warren said. That’s because the middle class grew, much of that due to good union jobs that enabled prosperity to be shared. However, as Big Business and its handmaidens in government increased their assaults on unions and killed efforts to update and strengthen labor laws, the middle class began to shrink, he added.
“There are consequences to declining union strength, and now we have the highest levels of economic injustice ever,” Warren said. “Our economy has moved to an hourglass model, with jobs at the top end and bottom end, but with the middle hollowed out.”
One reason elected officials were able to convince voters that labor is a problem might stem from misleading or inaccurate press coverage. For instance, a new independent study by two other professors shows that media are more likely to define a presidential administration as a “job killer” if it’s Democratic, and in 91.6 percent of the stories alleging that a government policy was a “job killer,” the media failed to cite any evidence for this claim.
Most of the sources of stories using the phrase “job killer” were business spokesmen (18.6 percent) and GOP officials (41.7 percent), according to “Job Killers” in the News: Allegations without Verification, by Professors Peter Dreier of Occidental College and Christopher Martin of the University of Northern Iowa.
The term “job killers” is used to attack efforts to raise wages, expand health coverage, safeguard consumers, protect the environment, increase taxes on the wealthy, and make workplaces safer, the research shows.
Media stories using “job killer” spiked dramatically after Barack Obama was elected president, 11 times as often in the first three years of the Obama administration (201 “job killer” stories) than the first three years of the George W. Bush administration (16 “job killer” stories).
The truth is, when U.S. workers have a “strong collective voice,” Warren said, “we get a stable and strong economy with continued economic growth. Unions still remain the best tool and best route for workers to improve their lives.”
But the GOP – now run by right-wing extremists and super-rich patrons like the Koch brothers – is instead mimicking the risky, anti-labor Wall Street mentality behind the 2008 economic collapse, as if they hope to live comfortably in wealth until they die (before things fall apart) or embrace a laissez faire attitude that the public interest justifies no law, regulation or tax.
Countering the inadequate media echo chamber and the money and influence of billionaires requires organization and action, from the streets to the voting booth.
“Unions can challenge the money and power that threatens our democracy’s legitimacy,” Warren said. “With union households accounting for about 25 percent of the electorate, union votes will be a major factor and, in battleground states – a decisive factor.”
The study “Job Killers” in the News: Allegations without Verification s online at www.uni.edu/martinc/jobkiller.html