By UTU International President Mike Futhey –
It has been said that the comfort of the rich depends upon an abundant supply of the poor.
Working families today feel the pain of that comment. Most are struggling to keep their heads above water as the gap between the middle-class and the rich continues to widen.
In decades past, labor unions forged America’s middle-class, fighting for livable wages, employer-paid benefits including health-care insurance, seniority rights and prohibitions against discrimination in the workplace.
Today, we are seeing a vicious assault on labor unions by conservative lawmakers — helped into office through political contributions of large employers and other anti-union forces – whose objective is to eradicate collective bargaining rights and labor unions.
In Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and other states, anti-union legislation has been advanced – and, in some cases, passed. In Congress, the House of Representatives has advanced legislation to weaken the ability of unions to organize and bargain collectively.
As our nation grapples to recover from a long and deep economic recession, many of those finding new employment must accept minimum wage — or only slightly more — in jobs providing no health-care insurance or other employer-paid benefits that are the foundation of building a solid middle class.
We have heard about the top 1 percent in America, whose earners make more than $700,000 annually. Middle-class families earn considerably less, and the little wealth they have acquired – in home equity and modest retirement savings – has been whittled away during this recession. Almost one-in-four home owners now owe more on their homes than they are worth, while most of the remaining home owners have seen the value of their homes decline as much as 40 percent.
A study out of the University of California (Los Angeles) concluded: “Never in the history of the United States has there been such a concentration of wealth in the hands of a small elite.”
During the 1940s, as America’s middle-class grew and prospered, 40 percent of American private-sector workers belonged to labor unions. Today, that figure is below 12 percent. Anti-labor forces wish to make that percentage even smaller.
Yet, as Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson recently observed: “When it comes to elections, unions are still the most potent mobilizers.” As shown in the centerfold of the March UTU News, UTU members go to the polls and larger numbers than most any other grouping of voters. And that is true for all labor union members.
The November general elections – at the state and federal levels — could spell doom for organized labor and millions of middle-class Americans whose job security, wages, benefits and working conditions depend on collectively bargained contracts. It needn’t be so if families in the labor movement, and others in the middle class, vote to end the war on labor.
We can make a difference this November. We must make a difference this November. Our job security, wages, benefits and working conditions hang in the balance.
As Benjamin Franklin observed when signing the Declaration of Independence, we must all hang together or assuredly we shall all hang separately. For America’s middle class, the words ring as true today as they did in 1776.