A pamphlet, Who Cares About Unions?, was shared by a coworker on a list I run for current and retired fellow employees. I had never heard of the author and took a minute to read his biography. He sounds like quite a character, but his “pamphlet” (who knew pamphleteering was back?) makes some particularly cogent points. The author has actually spent most of his life working on the other side of the table against unions in negotiation and business, both as an executive and as a consultant. Despite that history and some negative personal experiences with unions, he recognizes the vital role they play in our society.
The pamphlet collects some of the facts about what has happened in our country over the past thirty years in a list that is simultaneously one of the more comprehensive and concise that I’ve seen. I want to share that list here.
1.The top one-hundredth of one percent makes an average of $27 million per year per household. The average annual income for the bottom 90 percent of us is $31,244.
2.The richest 10% controls 2/3 of Americans’ net worth.
3.The superrich have grabbed the bulk of the past three decades’ gains.
4.Washington is closer to Wall Street than Main Street. The Median net worth of American families is $120,000. The median net worth for members of Congress is $912,000.
5.The 10 richest members of Congress all voted to extend the Bush tax cuts.
6.Gains and losses, 2007-2009: Wall Street profits: +720%; unemployment rate: +102 %; Americans’ home equity: -35%.
7.Those on Wall Street make record wages and benefits while the middle class loses.
8.Average CEO pay is 185 times bigger than the average worker.
9.The tax rate for a millionaire has gone from 66.4% in 1945 to 32.4% today. The pre-Bush tax cut rate for millionaires was 36.4%.
10.Income inequity has grown dramatically since the 1970’s-most due to skyrocketing incomes among the richest 1 percent and even more dramatically among the top 1/100 of 1 percent.
There are several important facts to add to that list. When adjusted for inflation, the median income for the bottom 90% of our country has actually dropped over the past 30 years. Even in the best years, it’s been pretty stagnant. The list also mentions the top tax rate. However, most of the income of those in the top 1% does not come from wages. Their income comes from a category we call “capital gains.” The capital gains tax rate is 15%. That’s right. The very richest in our country actually pay a lower tax rate than most of the middle class. (They pay more overall tax, of course, since that’s where the wealth in our country has become concentrated. But they pay at a lower rate. In what fantasy realm is that considered even vaguely fair?)
Unions are the only vehicle that are able to provide most of us an effective voice that wields real power. And without power, don’t kid yourself, your voice means absolutely nothing. At best, you’re a vote to curry and then ignore. Are unions free of problems and corruption? Of course not. No human institution is or ever will be. But they offer a viable means through which we can collectively act against the power of Wall Street. And we really don’t have any other such means. It’s little wonder that Wall Street (mostly through their puppet politicians) have targeted unions so consistently and effectively over the past thirty years. The decades of the Railroad Barons were a golden era for them.
It doesn’t really matter if you personally and individually are in a union. It’s about collective, not individual, power. In order for the middle class to have any meaningful voice, about a third of us need to be represented by unions. Instead, we’re on the verge of the end of unions in our country in any real sense. If that happens, there will be nothing to impede the final transformation of America into an oligarchy. We’re as close to that point today as we’ve ever been, yet a great many people still seem oblivious.
If the blatant and unpopular (according to every poll) attacks on unions and the middle class in multiple states don’t shake people out of whatever it is that blinds them, I don’t know what will. School teachers are not the enemy. Firefighters are not the enemy. Social workers are not the enemy. Public sector nurses are not the enemy. When did I wake up in an alternate reality where people have become so twisted they attack those who are trying to serve them? Are we human beings? Or are we wounded animals blindly lashing out at anything and everything placed in front of us?
I challenge everyone: Try to be human.