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Reorganizing American Labor
A t no time in the past 70 years have American workers and unions been under more direct and intense attack by corporate America. Moreover, that attack continues to show signs of becoming increasingly virulent and bold.
In the heartland of U.S. unionism, the auto industry, 100,000 union jobs will soon be lost in a second major wave of offshoring to China and Asia, textile union membership reels under the effects of the last year’s passage of CAFTA, construction jobs plummet with the emerging collapse of the housing industry, airline and railroad employment falls as management costcutting continues unabated, while regular full time jobs constrict in the manufacturing sector of the economy despite the quadrupling of profits in that sector since 2002.
Beyond manufacturing, for the U.S. economy as a whole, government data released this past June revealed that profits rose 123 percent from the end of the Bush recession in 2001 to the start of 2006, from $714 billion to $1.59 trillion. Measured in terms of national income, that is equivalent to the growth of profits as a share of national income from 7 percent to 12.2 percent—the fastest rate of growth since records were first kept in 1947—according to the international business source the Financial Times .
In the midst of union membership loss and the obscene growth of corporate profits, companies across the board continue to accelerate their abandonment of pension plans, health care costs continue to shift from employers to workers at a growing rate, a new model to undermine public employee unionism and bargaining takes shape in the Midwest, the hiring of temporary and contract workers outside bargaining units at lower pay and fewer benefits becomes increasingly the norm, while employers everywhere watch intensely the outcome of bankruptcy courts’ pending decisions to legitimize wage cuts of 50 percent, eliminate pensions altogether, and cut remaining benefits to the bone.
Today, more than ever before, workers and unions in the U.S. need to take a hard look in the wake of last year’s split in the AFLCIO and begin debating seriously what new strategies, new creative grassroots and shop floor tactics, as well as what new forms of organization are necessary to directly confront the intensifying corporate offensive.
The Collapse of Union Membership
ad the union movement today been able to
maintain the 22 percent membership level that it had in 1980 it
would now have approximately 27 million members instead of today’s
14 million. The contributing factors to the decline of union membership
have been many. At the top of the list have been the “free
trade” policies and practices of government and corporations
and the consequent exporting of millions of jobs as a result of
those policies. More than 7 million jobs have been lost in manufacturing
since 1980. More than 4.6 million of those were union jobs. NAFTA
has cost the U.S. more than a million jobs, China trade another
two million. With trade deficits running $700 billion a year further
losses in manufacturing jobs and union membership are imminent.
According to the U.S. Dept. of Commerce, every $1 billion in trade
deficit causes a loss of 13,000 jobs in the U.S. Other major contributing
factors to the loss of union jobs have been:
- the restructuring of jobs in the U.S. from fulltime permanent union jobs to parttime, temporary and contract nonunion jobs
- the institutionalization of unchecked outsourcing
- widespread redefinition of bargaining units with the support and assistance of the NLRB and the courts
- aggressive union decertification and union avoidance efforts by an increasing number of companies
- the expansion of offshoring from manufacturing to additional sectors of the economy, such as technology and business professional services
- deregulation driven destruction of once unionized entire industries, including court ordered destruction of union contracts and deunionization in industries, such as airlines and the federal government
Moreover, looming large on the horizon is the deunionization drive now beginning to take shape targeting public employees in several states, as politicians seek to return to the days when archaic “civil service” rules determined wages, benefits, and the rights of public workers.
Union Membership Decline
T he historic decline in union membership has been accompanied by a decline in the worker’s real wages, earnings, benefits, hours, and conditions unequaled anytime since the early 1930s. The following are some of the more noteworthy results of what has happened in parallel with the rapid decline in union membership in America:
- The real median take home pay of the American worker is around $1 an hour less today than in 1982
- The average hourly wage for more than 100 million workers has risen by only 31 cents since 1980. That’s an average wage increase of 1.2 cents a year
- The value of the minimum wage has fallen approximately 40 percent, leaving 19 million workers and their families below poverty level wages
- Nearly 12 million quality jobs have been permanently eliminated in the U.S. since 1980, more than 7 million of those wellpaid and mostly union manufacturing jobs
- The effective unemployment rate in the U.S. in 2005 was 12.6 percent when those unofficially unemployed and involuntarily underemployed are added to official government totals—19 million are without work
- There are more than 60 million workers in the U.S. today without a regular, permanent, full time job. Nearly half of the total employed workforce
- The U.S. worker toils for the most hours by far compared to workers in any other industrial nation—1,978 hours on average a year compared to 1,400 to 1,700 a year in Europe and 1,800 in Canada
- More than 46 million U.S. citizens have no health insurance coverage at all, including more than 31 million who are working and employed
- In the past five years workers’ share of healthcare costs have risen from 26 percent to 32 percent
- Since 1985 more than 97,000 defined benefit pension plans, mostly union, have been dismantled in the U.S., leaving workers with a fraction of what their retirement otherwise would have been
- From 1984 to 2004 more than $1.68 trillion in workers’ payroll tax contributions to social security (plus trillions more in interest) were permanently diverted from the Social Security Trust Fund to cover general U.S. budget deficits
- From 1980 to 2002 the median working family’s total federal tax burden (income and payroll tax) has risen from 23 percent to 30 percent while the tax burden for the wealthiest 1 percent of households has fallen from 31 percent to 21 percent
- George W. Bush’s cumulative tax cuts from 2001 through 2004 will amount to $11 trillion when made permanent, 80 percent of which will go the wealthiest 20 percent of households and corporations
- More than $900 billion every year is transferred from working class Americans to the wealthiest 10 percent of households as a result of the above
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljustice center.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www. peacestockvfp.org.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.