“If anything is on the decline in the U.S. it is not the importance of New Deal era unionism, it is the promise made by the New Deal itself.”
There is a fungus among us. It grows in the form of a narrative that says: “Unions were necessary in the past. They were needed to fight exploitation and improve conditions for workers. But those problems have gone away. Unions are no longer necessary.”
This narrative is hurled upon the millions by Far Right members of the media and politicians whose goal is to chip away at the American worker’s basic right to value itself, to hold labor in high esteem, and to demand fairness.
Of course, in the post-New Deal economy we have not exactly cleared up the ills of yesteryear. Wage theft remains rampant. Safety violations go unmonitored. Corporations dodge taxes like a bouncing red ball in a middle school gymnasium. For Working Class sympathizers such as Harold Meyerson, the solution remains unchanged: the need for unions has never been greater, especially in the growth fields of the upcoming decade:
Among the occupations that the Bureau of Labor Statistics says will have the most job growth between 2010 and 2020 are cashiers (median annual wage as of 2010, $18,500; projected growth 250,000 new jobs), childcare workers ($19,300; 262,000 new jobs), home health and personal care aides (roughly $20,000; 1.3 million new jobs), food prep and fast-food workers ($17,950; 398,000 new jobs), and retail sales workers ($20,670; 707,000 new jobs).
According to a paper from the National Employment Law Project [April 2012 Issue Brief, “Slower Real Growth, Declining Real Wages Undermine Recovery], 30 percent of this decade’s job openings will have a median wage around $20,000. According to a report issued earlier this month by the Food Chain Workers Alliance, a survey of food workers—from farm workers to processing workers to kitchen workers to servers—found that just 13.5 percent made a wage that was at least 150 percent of the regional poverty threshold.
These workers and many other who earn low wages — such as the 1.4 million associates of Wal-Mart — have jobs that cannot be sent offshore. They are tasks which need to be done in the U.S. yet they do not pay enough to ensure the desired stability of a working class life. As Meyerson points out, there have been many recent attempts to organize in these professions, nearly all of which have been met with fierce opposition and dysfunctional modern labor law hurdles:
Port truckers, for instance, lost their employee status and were rendered “independent contractors” by the deregulation of the trucking industry. Absent an employer of record, they barely get by. Wal-Mart has many thousands of warehouse workers who take the products off those trucks, sort and stack them on pallets bound for WalMarts all over the nation, but WalMart has arranged a system by which those workers are employed by a bewildering array of temporary employment agencies. Unions have been trying to organize the port truckers and the warehouse workers for years – in the case of the truckers, for decades – but the byzantine employment arrangements have proved too steep a climb.
The need to unionize is evident for some, but is lost on anti-union pundits. If anything is on the decline in the U.S. it is not the importance of New Deal era unionism, it is the promise made by the New Deal itself.