The Cost of Losing Union Strength

There was a time when “charity” meant helping those who had fallen to calamity — sudden illness, accident or misfortune to prevent productive work, to such an extent that the social safety net could not hold at bay tragic loss. More recently, however, I notice that appeals to donate (which come at an ever-increasing rate) are for aid to the “working poor.” Food, clothing, shelter, child care, scholarships. How is it that we are in a position of being asked to constantly and personally subsidize families who are working full time? And who is the real beneficiary of our generosity? Does it bother you that we are being asked to privately make up the difference between what a worker is earning and what it takes to actually stay decently alive? That donated difference equals additional profits to those who then control political campaigns and public policy with their affluence.

What choice do we have? To write public policy that requires a “living wage,” means higher prices for goods and services, so we pay as we choose to purchase. To refuse to donate to charity means that we will increasingly live in a social order that will become chaotic as the least among us are unable to both work and provide for healthy family life. So we will increase our portfolios on the misery of others, or upon the appeals to “charity.” If we truly believe that hard honest work should be rewarded in a capitalist society, then we might want to seriously rethink our attitudes toward unions. Just hoping (and culturally demanding) that parents who have to work two jobs to pay the rent will be there to nurture and provide adequately for children is simple fantasy.

“With union membership declining, workers are less able to demand and win a fair share of the economic pie. The “union effect” on pay is dramatic: unionized workers earn 20 percent more in wages and 28 percent more in total compensation than non-union workers. The beneficial effects of unions sometimes extend even to non-union employees because their employers tend to improve pay in order to compete for workers. For example, a high school graduate whose workplace is not unionized but whose industry is 25 percent unionized is paid 5 percent more than similar employees in less unionized industries.” – Economic Policy Institute

I know unions are not perfect. What is? But their demise is creating a permanent underclass that we will continue to pay for, one way or another.

2 thoughts on “The Cost of Losing Union Strength

  1. Epluribusunum

    Excellent points. What is truly moral is also pragmatic, in contrast to the false morality based on fantasy.

    I’ve been trying to get the (presumably ‘tea party’) commenters at the LTM to answer this simplest of questions, and they can’t even do that:

    If a person works for someone else for 40 hours each week, should the wage that person receives for their work be enough to pay for the basic needs that sustain life? Yes or no.

    The closest anyone has come to an answer is to say that “we” can’t answer that question because it’s up to “the market” – as if “the market” is something other than a human invention, as if we the people are powerless to make choices about how we live in human community. They probably really believe this, since the affluent who “control political campaigns and public policy” have also created their own separatist media and discourse in which “the market” has been made a substitute for God.

    With regard to charity, it’s fascinating to watch folks in thrall to this ideology try to shoehorn their nominal Christian faith to fit inside in. “You are NOT your brother’s keeper!” thundered one of the speakers at the big tea party rally at the Capital, and they all cheered wildly. A heavily promoted current talking point of the Christianist right is the notion that “charity” was intended to be strictly an individual act, that there is no collective responsibility to care for those among us in need. This does two things: It creates a fantasy that we still live under imperial Rome, and ignores the fact that in our system of government, the government is us; and, by claiming an individual right to decide whether and to whom to provide “charity” (by which they mean any part of a social safety net), it authorizes the idea that only certain people are deserving of help, while the rest are to be pitied as they beg for scraps but held responsible for their own condition. “Who sinned,” asked the Pharisees, “this man, or his parents?”

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