Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Dec. 2, 3 or 4
The merger recognized that both craft and industrial unions are appropriate, equal and necessary as ways to organize, and it created the AFL-CIO.
The unity and solidarity has had its ups and downs, with Carpenters, Mine Workers, Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) at various points not affiliated.
Today, solidarity – and creativity – is more vital than ever.
Why? To start, the seasonally adjusted weekly earnings at the 3rd quarter of 2013 were reported last month by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and they’re $777 – up a measly $2 since the 2nd quarter.
In fact, in the last 10 years, weekly earnings LOST $2 in spending power, the BLS shows in its “constant dollars” comparison to the 3rd quarter of 2004.
Meanwhile, the Social Security Administration (SSA) reports that the median annual income in the United States is about $27,000, unchanged from 2011: “Fifty percent of wage-earners had net compensation less than or equal to the median wage,” the SSA reports in its “Wage Statistics for 2012” report issued Nov. 9.
Pulitzer Prize-winning financial journalist David Cay Johnston adds, “The median wage –half of workers make more, half less – came to $27,519 last year,” he reported. “Measured in 2012 dollars, the median wage was DOWN $4.”
That puts into a clearer perspective on “good news” such as the Consumer Price Index recently showing that inflation is at 1 percent in the last year, with costlier categories such as natural gas (+4.4 percent) offset by declining prices of motor fuel (down 10 percent).
Further, the mainstream media too often use inflation, the jobless rate or the stock market as measurements for improvements in the U.S. economy, but without considering wages that disregards the fact that if most workers are making less, the economy is not doing better for them. It is doing worse.
And while it’s true that the Dow Jones Industrial Average on Nov. 21 set a new record, closing at 16,000 for the first time, that performance has not been mirrored in better pay or employment progress.
"Since 2000, the population has grown by more than 11 percent,” Johnston reports, “but the number of people with jobs increased just 3.7 percent. That is, population is growing about three times as fast as jobs are."
Worse, Big Business is planning well-funded attacks on workers who organize outside traditional union structures – governed by federal labor law – like nonprofit worker centers such as the Fast Food Forward, Arise Chicago, and the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart).
Ryan Williams, an ex-Romney aide now with the business-backed Worker Center Watchdog, told the New York-based news site Portside Labor that workers are “getting away with skirting labor laws.”
(Williams – who also works with FP1 Strategies, which in turn works for the anti-union Workforce Fairness Institute campaign – neglects to recall the many cases of EMPLOYERS violating labor laws.)
On this anniversary of the founding of the AFL-CIO, there are ideas to better deal with the climate of such coming attacks and last year’s passage of Right-To-Work (for less) laws in Michigan and Indiana:
* concentrate on low-wage service sector jobs, where groups such as SEIU for decades have had success,
* engage in short strikes and stress communities’ stake in a union-strengthened middle class, suggests Stephen Lerner, who led the Justice for Janitors campaign,
* cultivate activists and labor leaders willing to take risks – “including knowing when to step down,” says organizer Bill Fletcher Jr., author of “ ‘They're Bankrupting Us’ And 20 Other Myths About Unions” – and build coalitions, and
* don’t count on federal labor law in general or the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in particular, according to Ruth Milkman, sociology professor at the CUNY Graduate Center. “Organizing should be based on alliances with community groups, faith leaders, and pro-labor elected officials, drawing on the full spectrum of historical strategies and tactics,” she says.
[PICTURED: Graphic from the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers' International Union]