We live in an era where workers have once again discovered they’re being exploited by the bosses. They’ve begun to learn that no one can live on the Federal minimum wage of $7.25, that trying to do so drives them and their families into poverty. Indeed, we, as a nation, have once again discovered that there actually is poverty in our country, that people…hardworking people…simply can’t exist on what the lords of commerce deign to pay them.
The workers are starting to notice. And the employers are starting to tremble. Because, eventually, the workers are going to win. Eventually, the workers always do.
It isn’t the first time in our history this has happened. It isn’t the first time that in times of relative prosperity, workers let hard won rights and benefits slip away form them, indeed, kicked them away themselves. In the halcyon days of the 1980s, they stood by…even cheered…while the likes of Ronald Reagan and Popi Bush did away with their right to strike and struck even at their rights to organize. They left the unions that had gained them unprecedented rights and benefits in droves. At their height, more than 35% of workers belonged to unions. At the end of this year that number had slipped to 11.3%…only a hair’s breadth above the all-time low of 11.2% registered in 1916…this even though compensation for union members remains significantly higher than that of non-union members.
Even now, the anti-union forces are in full voice and full sway. In state after state, governors and legislatures assault the rights and benefits of their state employees’ unions. Even in blue states like California and New Jersey, union rights are under attack. The days of Haymarket Square and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire are not so distant that they don’t resonate for the workers of today. Union victories have been great and many…the five-day work week, a minimum wage, unemployment insurance, a living wage, health and retirement benefits. Victories that sometimes seem to be flying away on the winds.
How, workers today might ask…how do we bring these things about again. How do we force the plutocrats of the 21st century to cede to us what our forbears forced from the plutocrats of the 20th century. How do we, finally, win a living wage to feed and clothe ourselves and our families? There is one word…and one only….
O R G A N I Z E
In union, there is strength. From Walmart to McDonalds…what would happen if, on a day of general strike, every single one was shut down, if, as the auto workers once did, workers sat down at their counters and in their aisles.
Change doesn’t come by itself. Change is made.