FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Big Squeeze

by SETH SANDRONSKY

The editorial board of the Sacramento Bee, my hometown’s only daily newspaper, did it.

They discussed declining income for the U.S. middle class without mentioning labor unions (Editorial: “Middle-class squeeze shows up in retail spending patterns,” Feb. 9, 2014).

Call it a union blackout. Why?

Unions bargain collectively with employers for members’ wages, benefits, and working conditions. Thus, bosses have bottom-line motives to bargain for lower pay with individual employees.

Maybe the Bee’s editors did not get this memo. I doubt it, though.

According to the Bee editorial: “The squeeze in the middle of the department-store industry mirrors the stagnation of middle-class incomes over the last 35 years.” The data fits the narrative of U.S. class polarization.

The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco concurs. “By 2010, the labor share of the bottom 99% of taxpayers had fallen to approximately 50% from just above 60% prior to the 1980s.”

Meanwhile, 11.3% of U.S. wage and salary workers were union members in 2013 versus 20.1% in 1983, according to the Labor Dept. A brief look at what the Bee calls “the department-store industry” and I term “merchant capital” can shed useful light.

Think Wal-Mart Stores Inc. As journalist Arun Gupta writes in Socialist Register 2014, the global giant “accounts for about 13% of the $2.53 trillion U.S. retail market. And 140 million Americans shop at Wal-Mart weekly, more people than voted for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney combined in 2012.”

Wal-Mart began in 1962 and employs 1.4 million Americans now. The company serves as a proxy for the bitter plight of U.S. workers, whose gains from the economy’s productivity have been flowing away from them and to the top of the income chain.

Case in point is Wal-Mart’s low pay, low-price and union-free business model delivers huge riches the Walton family, based in Arkansas. The Waltons’ wealth exceeded that of the bottom 30% of U.S. families in 2007.

By 2010, Walton family wealth had increased to 41.5% of all American families, according to Gupta. Arkansas has a 3.5% rate of union density, above North Carolina (3%), and below Mississippi (3.7%).

Employment struggles in a time of political retreat for most American workers define class struggle. Organized labor, to avoid fatal atrophy, has a role to play in pushing policies and practices for shared prosperity accruing to workers in and out of unions.

The Bee’s editors conclude: “The days of denying the impact of rising income inequality are over. It’s an issue that defines this time.”

Strengthen U.S. labor law. How best to proceed?

Recall the Employee Free Choice Act, an amendment to the National Labor Relations Act of 1935. With the EFCA, a simple majority of employees (50%) could check a card showing support to join a union at a workplace, replacing the National Labor Relations Board secret-ballot elections.

Under the EFCA, union-free workers could opt for the current election process, but the choice would be theirs to make and not their bosses.

First, however, the EFCA requires enough votes to pass the Senate and House for President Obama to sign it into law, as he promised to.

Calling to close an income gap is one thing. Closing this gap via class-conscious politics that organized labor is a part of—not apart from (think Occupy Wall Street)—is another thing.

Seth Sandronsky is a Sacramento journalist and member of the freelancers unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email sethsandronsky@gmail.com

More articles by:

Seth Sandronsky is a Sacramento journalist and member of the freelancers unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Emailsethsandronsky@gmail.com

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

June 26, 2017
William Hawes – Jason Holland
Lies That Capitalists Tell Us
Chairman Brandon Sazue
Out of the Shadow of Custer: Zinke Proves He’s No “Champion” of Indian Country With his Grizzly Lies
Patrick Cockburn
Grenfell Tower: the Tragic Price of the Rolled-Back Stat
Joseph Mangano
Tritium: Toxic Tip of the Nuclear Iceberg
Ray McGovern
Hersh’s Big Scoop: Bad Intel Behind Trump’s Syria Attack
Roy Eidelson
Heart of Darkness: Observations on a Torture Notebook
Geoff Beckman
Why Democrats Lose: the Case of Jon Ossoff
Matthew Stevenson
Travels Around Trump’s America
David Macaray
Law Enforcement’s Dirty Little Secret
Colin Todhunter
Future Shock: Imagining India
Yoav Litvin
Animals at the Roger Waters Concert
Binoy Kampmark
Pride in San Francisco
Stansfield Smith
 North Koreans in South Korea Face Imprisonment for Wanting to Return Home
James Porteous
Seventeen-Year-Old Nabra Hassanen Was Murdered
Weekend Edition
June 23, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Democrats in the Dead Zone
Gary Leupp
Trump, Qatar and the Danger of Total Confusion
Andrew Levine
The “Democracies” We Deserve
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
The FBI’s “Operation Backfire” and the Case of Briana Waters
Rob Urie
Cannibal Corpse
Joseph G. Ramsey
Savage Calculations: On the Exoneration of Philando Castile’s Killer
John Wight
Trump’s Attack on Cuba
Dave Lindorff
We Need a Mass Movement to Demand Radical Progressive Change
Brian Cloughley
Moving Closer to Doom
David Rosen
The Sex Offender: the 21st Century Witch
John Feffer
All Signs Point to Trump’s Coming War With Iran
Jennifer L. Lieberman
What’s Really New About the Gig Economy?
Pete Dolack
Analyzing the Failures of Syriza
Vijay Prashad
The Russian Nexus
Mike Whitney
Putin Tries to Avoid a Wider War With the US
Gregory Barrett
“Realpolitik” in Berlin: Merkel Fawns Over Kissinger
Louis Yako
The Road to Understanding Syria Goes Through Iraq
Graham Peebles
Grenfell Tower: A Disaster Waiting to Happen
Ezra Rosser
The Poverty State of Mind and the State’s Obligations to the Poor
Ron Jacobs
Andrew Jackson and the American Psyche
Pepe Escobar
Fear and Loathing on the Afghan Silk Road
Andre Vltchek
Why I Reject Western Courts and Justice
Lawrence Davidson
On Hidden Cultural Corruptors
Christopher Brauchli
The Routinization of Mass Shootings in America
Missy Comley Beattie
The Poor Need Not Apply
Martin Billheimer
White Man’s Country and the Iron Room
Joseph Natoli
What to Wonder Now
Tom Clifford
Hong Kong: the Chinese Meant Business
Thomas Knapp
The Castile Doctrine: Cops Without Consequences
Nyla Ali Khan
Borders Versus Memory
Binoy Kampmark
Death on the Road: Memory in Tim Winton’s Shrine
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail