FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Has Everyone Improved Except Working People?

by DAVID MACARAY

Not to wax nostalgically, but when we look back at the social progress made over the last half-century or so, we have much to be proud of. Granted, in many instances it was unfortunate we had to wait so long before these progressive measures took root, but late to the party or not, the fact that they were eventually adopted and became part of America’s social landscape is, by far, the bigger story.

Over the course of the last half-century, we’ve seen real progress in civil rights, abortion rights, and gay rights; we’ve seen the birth of an anti-war movement, the rise of Second Wave feminism, the embrace of automobile safety and environmental consciousness (establishment of the EPA), acknowledgement of the rights of disabled citizens (passage of the ADA), liberalization of marijuana laws, laws against the harassment of pets, and passage of the 26th amendment, allowing 18-year olds to vote.

But alarmingly, over this same period, working people have been more or less victimized. The labor movement has not only failed to progress commensurately, it seems to have done a crisp about-face and begun marching in the opposite direction. Not to wallow in self-pity here, but while other groups (minorities, women, the disabled, stoners, teens, pets, et al) have all been given a well-deserved boost, the working-class appears to have had a “Kick me” sign attached to its backside.

Labor unions watched in disbelief as the gains made prior to and just following World War II were watered down beyond recognition or, in many instances, were summarily wiped off the slate entirely. One of the results of this systematic assault on working people is the battered state of today’s rapidly shrinking middle-class. In that ongoing rat-race we euphemistically refer to as the “global economy,” the rats are clearly winning.

The contrast between labor’s role, then and now, is staggering. Consider one example: In 1950, a milestone agreement was forged between labor and management. The media christened it the “Treaty of Detroit.” You don’t hear much about it today, even in labor circles, but without question it stands as a landmark in the social and economic history of the United States. Indeed, if any single event can be said to have “invented” the American middle-class, it was the Treaty of Detroit.

The U.S. labor situation following WWII was a mess. Disgruntled workers and lengthy shrikes were the order of the day. Workers who’d been asked to sacrifice during the war, but who’d seen U.S. industrialists reap enormous war-time profits, now insisted on getting their fair share, and were willing to hit the bricks for months at a time if that’s what it took to get it. But in 1950, Walter Reuther, president of the United Auto Workers made a deal with the Big Three automakers (GM was first, Chrysler and Ford soon followed) that changed everything.

Reuther promised the Big Three that if they gave workers health care and pensions, unemployment benefits, increased vacations, and COLAs (cost of living allowance), the UAW, in return, would not go on strike for five years. That’s five years of guaranteed labor peace—five years of no crippling strikes, five years of no idle factories; five years of every single car coming off Detroit’s assembly line being sold to a commodity-starved postwar public—in return for benefits the companies could easily afford. (Granted, this was back when companies paid more attention to their employees than their shareholders)

This arrangement—particularly company-provided health care and pensions—not only instantly became the gold standard of organized labor, but it’s been the template for union-management negotiations ever since. With European-style national health care off the table (it was anathema to U.S. politicians), it fell to businesses to provide it. Health care and pensions were no longer regarded as “luxuries”; they were now as integral to the job as general wages.

But that’s all changed. Things have regressed so dramatically, we now feel trapped in a hideous, atavistic nightmare, unable to wake. Health care is once again regarded as a luxury. A defined pension is a luxury. A full-time job is a luxury. Union membership is a luxury. A middle-class income is a luxury. In fact, everything north of genteel poverty is a luxury. In some ways, it feels like the storied American Labor Movement never happened.

David Macaray, CounterPunch’s labor correspondent, is a Los Angeles playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor,” 2nd Edition). He was a former labor union rep.  He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

More articles by:

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
July 28, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Diana Johnstone
Collateral Damage: U.S. Sanctions Aimed at Russia Strike Western European Allies
Jim Kavanagh
Donald the Destroyer: Assessing the Trump Effect
Carl Boggs
The Other Side of War: Fury and Repression in St. Louis
Eva Golinger
There is Still Time to Prevent Civil War in Venezuela
Anthony DiMaggio
“A Better Deal”? Dissecting the Democrats’ “Populist” Turn in Rhetoric and Reality
Conn Hallinan
Middle East Chaos
Mumia Abu-Jamal
James Baldwin: Word Warrior
Joshua Frank
The Fire Beneath: Los Angeles is Sitting on a Ticking Time Bomb
Myles Hoenig
It Wasn’t Russia, It was the Green Party!
Andrew Levine
Enter Scaramouche, Stage Right
Brian Cloughley
Time to Get Out of Afghanistan
Gary Leupp
The Trump Revolution Devouring Its Own Children
John Wright
Trump’s Hezbollah Gaff Was No Gaff
Alan Jones
“Finland Station” and the Struggle for Socialism Today
Robert Hunziker
Plastic Chokes the Seas
Eric Draitser
Enough Nonsense! The Left Does Not Collaborate with Fascists
Vijay Prashad
The FBI vs. Comrade Charlie Chaplin
Jane LaTour
Danger! Men Working
Yoav Litvin
The Unbearable Lightness of Counterrevolution
Charles Derber
Universalizing Resistance: How to Trump Trump
Gregory Barrett
Two Johnstones and a Leftish Dilemma: Nationalism vs. Neoliberalism
Joseph Natoli
Choosing the ‘Arteries that Make Money’
CJ Hopkins
Intersectionalist Internet Blues
Pepe Escobar
China and India Torn Between Silk Roads and Cocked Guns
Ralph Nader
Can the World Defend Itself From Omnicide?
Howard Lisnoff
Agape While Waltzing at the Precipice
Musa Al-Gharbi
Want to Shake Up Status Quo? Account for the Default Effect
Angela Kim
North Korean Policy Must Focus on Engagement Not Coercion
Hiroyuki Hamada
Delivering Art in the Empire
David Macaray
Talking Union
Binoy Kampmark
Refugee Conundrums: Resettlement, the UN and the US-Australia Deal
Robert Koehler
Opening Gitmo to the World
David Jaffee
No Safe Space for Student X
Thomas Knapp
The State is at War — With the Future
David Swanson
What’s Missing from Dunkirk Film
Winslow Myers
There Is Still Time, Brother
Robert J. Burrowes
Biological Annihilation on Earth Accelerating
Frederick B. Hudson – Dr. Junis Warren
Robot Scientists Carry Heavy Human Hearts 
Randy Shields
Not My Brother’s Reefer
Sam Lichtman
Where are the Millennials?
Louis Proyect
Death Race: the Cruelties of the Iditarod
Charles R. Larson
Review: Norman Lock’s A Fugitive in Walden Woods
July 27, 2017
Edward Curtin
The Deep State, Now and Then
Melvin Goodman
The Myth of American Exceptionalism
Nozomi Hayase
From Watergate to Russiagate: the Hidden Scandal of American Power
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail