Tuesday, August 23, 2011

When Unions Are Strong, Americans Enjoy The Fruits of Their Labor

by David Morris

The only effective answer to organized greed is organized labor.
~Thomas Donohue, Former President AFL-CIO

In the early 1980s Ricardo Levins Morales, an artist and labor activist in Minneapolis designed a bumper sticker with a simple eight-word message, “From the people who brought you the weekend. “ Since then, he's sold tens of thousands. In 2007 Ricardo told National Public Radio he often found people “squinting with puzzled looks at the stickers.” "For people who are not steeped in labor history,” he added, “it might take a few minutes to figure out what on earth they are talking about” because most people think the weekend has always been here, "like the weather."

No Virginia , the weekend has not always been here. At the end of the 19th century men, women and children often worked 10 to 16 hour days, seven days a week. The weekend, along with the 8-hour day, rest breaks, decent wages and working conditions were gained only over decades, and at great human cost. And the vehicle used to win these advances was the union.

In the last generation, US unions have shrunk in size and influence, largely as a result of a withering attack by corporations and Republicans. And with that shrinking influence has come a corresponding decrease in the standard of living of most Americans. Indeed, as we shall see, the correlation between the strength of unions and the strength of the middle class is so empirically strong it might well be considered causal.

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