What exactly is happening to hard working people? When did the bottom fall out for most folks? Was it after September 11th, or maybe it was after hurricane Katrina? Somewhere along the line it seems life has changed radically for a lot of working people, it has gotten much worse. Before 9-11 it seemed like there was more right than wrong in the United States, now after Katrina it seems there is more wrong than right. Working people are feeling the crush of an immeasurable, undetectable economic downturn that no one in power is talking about. Healthcare, gas prices and the prices of almost everything are skyrocketing in cost, while workers are being dealt lower wages and reduced benefits. More and more Americans are becoming underinsured or have no healthcare at all. Many are now working two jobs to try to make ends meet, and still they are finding it harder and harder to achieve that goal. Others find themselves in a even worse predicament, watching their careers being eliminated either through work place reductions or having their jobs sent overseas. People's worst nightmares are becoming true, they are finding it increasingly difficult to support themselves and their families.
As the overall direction for working people in our country continues to decline, what are our elected officials doing to help? Right after hurricane Katrina hit, this president and this congress made one of their first priorities to cut wages for those who work in the Gulf State's affected areas. This apparently was one of the first priorities while hurricane survivors were left to fend for themselves. Did this action really benefit the survivors, who are dealing with shattered lives, lost loved ones, and now get lower than normal wages? Or did this benefit a different set of people, the like the companies who were initially awarded the no bid contracts? The elected officials in our government continue to put the importance on corporate profits over people that it serves. Does anyone still believe that their senator or representative puts their constituents interests over lobbyists or multi-national corporations? Over the last few decades there has been a transition from American democracy of, by, and for the people, to a multinational corporate oligarchy. As this is happening there are fewer and fewer voices speaking out on behalf of the American working class, and there is virtually no national platform or movement for common people. While executives and congress are concerned about the good of the corporations, who is fighting for working people?
Working Americans face diminishing political muscle.
Labor unions have been the standard bearers on this front, but their efforts are not enough by themselves anymore. To illustrate the diminished effectiveness of labor and the movement of working people consider this. The AARP according to its website has 35 million members, the NRA has 4 million, while relatively new even Move.org has 3.3 million members, but Working America.org (working families e-activists) is the activist arm of the AFL-CIO, which itself is only about a year old, has only one million members as of August 31, 2005. Unions are steadily losing membership according to an online article by Infoplease, which quotes a report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics "In 2004, 12.5% of wage and salary workers were union members, down from 12.9% in 2003. The number of persons belonging to a union fell by about 300,000 over the year to 15.5 million in 2004. Union membership rate has steadily declined from a high of 20.1% in 1983".
Even if organized labor was operating at the highest level of activism it can only bring half the numbers to bear on a problem as a group like the AARP, and it must be suggested that labor is not functioning at the highest levels of coordinated activism right now. Democrats take labor's support for granted and Republicans do not even blink when signing anti-worker legislation like CAFTA or when they are repealing laws like the Davis-Bacon act. In this current environment perhaps the worst times in generations, union members have witnessed labor federations splitting, various lettered organizations fighting amongst themselves and groups raiding each other's members. A renewed focus on organizing, on labor's common ground, and the ideas of what has historically worked for unions, combined with a return to coordinated action and activism would be helpful in turning the tide for working people.
But is this enough by itself?
A national effort is needed to unite and defend the interests, the values and the quality of life for working people. Those of us involved in the fight to advance the lives of working people must begin to find new ways to involve more people and more groups in our efforts. Working America.org is mentioned not to make light of their efforts, quite the opposite, what they are doing is groundbreaking and everyone should consider joining their efforts. It is the concept of appealing to "working families" or "Working Americans" instead of just "union families" is an important change of mindset that should be applauded. Even if you do not belong to an AFL-CIO union you must consider joining. You have the opportunity to either act, or decide not to act, on every issue they present. The fact that the door is left open to non-union workers hopefully will intensify their overall efforts. Whatever power Working Families wields it would be far greater if a larger percentage of union members joined their effort. Even this is may not be enough, at least not in its current form.
There are many reasons why this effort might not attract or compel many working people to join. These reasons range from political reasons, like the fact that Working America has a slant towards democrats. Whatever our political persuasion is we must be mindful of the fact 35% of union members voted for the current administration and consider themselves Republicans. Some people will never be associated with any group that has a political agenda askew of the Republican Party. We have to find new ways to reach these people to convince them that our cause is their interest. Another problem is the intra-union squabbling also; many in the Change to Win group are not likely to join an AFL-CIO sponsored effort. There are profound reasons why the split between the CTW and the AFL-CIO occurred. These issues between the two labor affiliations are not likely to go away soon. There is also the fact that many people have not caught on to the idea of activism, let alone e-mail activism, the use of a computer in this regard is a foreign concept to some people. Working America also has very little off-line exposure right now and this can hinder the overall effort.
Is a whole new outlet for our efforts needed?
The idea of an all-together new advocacy group for working people is one that needs to be considered. This would not be done to replace or circumvent unions, rather to directly help support and advance the cause of working people and indirectly help unions as well. Right now there are more people fighting for retired people than those of us still working. The fact is that the AARP, the group that speaks out for ageing and retired Americans, total membership doubles the collective efforts of those of us who are fighting for working people. This must serve as a wake up call for each of us involved in the fight for working people. If the AARP can find ways to offer insurance at lower rates for ageing drivers, perhaps a group advancing the cause of workers can find a way to help provide affordable healthcare to workers? If the AARP can impact the Social Security and Medicare debates maybe this new group can impact outsourcing American jobs or raising the minimum wage? A neutral group not directly tied to any labor organization or political party would have more latitude in attracting non-union and republicans to the cause of working people.
Part of labor's problem is the time effort and money it takes to get a vote at a major non-union corporation. This process is necessary but slow and there is always the possibility of losing the vote to form a new union shop. It is essential to continue to organize but there has to be a way to mobilize more working people more rapidly, even if they are outside of a union shop. Unions also have less impact in right-to-work states and their political clout in these states is at best reduced. Another newer issue is how companies are allowed to form new non-union affiliates and can outsource work to non-union employees at the drop of a hat. Often members become disconnected from the fight after they are outsourced or laid-off. We must also begin to understand that there are some employees who perceive unions as strictly a blue-collar idea, some have no desire to join a union and others mistrust unions all together. We can find ways to speak to these people as well.
Could a new organization advance the ideals of the labor movement on an issue-by-issue basis and be an arena for people in these environments to become or remain active in? A new activist group could be an effort to mobilize employees that work outside of union shops, to attract members who might not otherwise be involved or interested in fighting for the cause of working people. How this group would be set up, who would set the agenda, and how it can be funded will take the effort and minds of many of us working together. Whether the current Working Families -Working America platform be developed into the kind of group that would rival the AARP, or if it will it take a completely new direction remains to be seen. The challenge now before all of us is to develop this type of activist group to speak for and defend working people. The idea can be made a reality if labor can put aside its differences and enough of us can find ways to work together.
What kind of working society will we hand to the next generation of Americans?
Without some kind of change in how things are going, and if the number of union members continues to dwindle it is very possible that we might be the last generation of union members able to impact the political landscape. Regardless of your opinion of a new advocacy group for working Americans, all of us working decent paying union jobs must understand we have targets on our backs. Companies are looking to eliminate unions by whatever means necessary. Right now, the number of "working poor" continues to rise as the cost associated with energy, healthcare and retirement is reducing the standard of living for all working Americans. Right now, the outsourcing of jobs to China combined with influx of illegal or undocumented workers across our borders is threatening the national prosperity for many working Americans.
We must put aside our differences and speak to our common ground. We must defend the working class ideals and values and make those who violate them pay a political price. We must look for new ways and new ideas to challenge what is happening to working people. We must increase our efforts, our political clout, and begin to coordinate our collective actions, or we will have to deal with getting low wages, no healthcare and a standard of living that will rival third world nations. Our generation has had the opportunity to live the American dream, if we continue to fail in our efforts, our children and future generations will be living the American nightmare.
If I am wrong on this tell me why, or send your comments to:
Or on the internet at:
It is likely you have received or are reading this article because you are active in the cause of labor.
Your fight is an honorable one. -- Thank you for all your efforts.
If you are part of a group that is fighting for working people that is not a traditional labor union,
and you would like others to join your efforts. -- Please send your contact information to the e-mail address above.
For references pertaining to this article and for more information:
Working Families Network - Homepage
Please consider joining if you do not already belong.
Join Working Families - e-activist network
AARP - organization for people age 50 and over.
The NRA-ILA the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association
Infoplease - Union Membership, by States
The Loose Cannon's views are not affiliated with any group or organization they are provided as only a point a view. Everyone is encouraged to be well informed and develop his or her own opinions. What readers do with the information provided is completely their own personal choice.