Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Spring Fund Drive: Keep CounterPunch Afloat
CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Big Squeeze

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

Weekend Edition
May 18, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Donald, Vlad, and Bibi
Robert Fisk
How Long Will We Pretend Palestinians Aren’t People?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Wild at Heart: Keeping Up With Margie Kidder
Roger Harris
Venezuela on the Eve of Presidential Elections: The US Empire Isn’t Sitting by Idly
Michael Slager
Criminalizing Victims: the Fate of Honduran Refugees 
John Laforge
Don’t Call It an Explosion: Gaseous Ignition Events with Radioactive Waste
Carlo Filice
The First “Fake News” Story (or, What the Serpent Would Have Said)
Dave Lindorff
Israel Crosses a Line as IDF Snipers Murder Unarmed Protesters in the Ghetto of Gaza
Gary Leupp
The McCain Cult
Robert Fantina
What’s Wrong With the United States?
Jill Richardson
The Lesson I Learned Growing Up Jewish
David Orenstein
A Call to Secular Humanist Resistance
W. T. Whitney
The U.S. Role in Removing a Revolutionary and in Restoring War to Colombia
Rev. William Alberts
The Danger of Praying Truth to Power
Alan Macleod
A Primer on the Venezuelan Elections
John W. Whitehead
The Age of Petty Tyrannies
Franklin Lamb
Have Recent Events Sounded the Death Knell for Iran’s Regional Project?
Brian Saady
How the “Cocaine Mitch” Saga Deflected the Spotlight on Corruption
David Swanson
Tim Kaine’s War Scam Hits a Speed Bump
Norah Vawter
Pipeline Outrage is a Human Issue, Not a Political Issue
Mel Gurtov
Who’s to Blame If the US-North Korea Summit Isn’t Held?
Patrick Bobilin
When Outrage is Capital
Jessicah Pierre
The Moral Revolution America Needs
Binoy Kampmark
Big Dead Place: Remembering Antarctica
John Carroll Md
What Does It Mean to be a Physician Advocate in Haiti?
George Ochenski
Saving Sage Grouse: Another Collaborative Failure
Sam Husseini
To the US Government, Israel is, Again, Totally Off The Hook
Brian Wakamo
Sick of Shady Banks? Get a Loan from the Post Office!
Colin Todhunter
Dangerous Liaison: Industrial Agriculture and the Reductionist Mindset
Ralph Nader
Trump: Making America Dread Again
George Capaccio
Bloody Monday, Every Day of the Week
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Swing Status, Be Gone
Samantha Krop
Questioning Our Declaration on Human Rights
Morna McDermott
Classrooms, Not Computers: Stop Educating for Profit
Patrick Walker
Today’s Poor People’s Campaign: Too Important Not to Criticize
Julia Stein
Wrestling With Zionism
Clark T. Scott
The Exceptional President
Barry Barnett
The Family of Nations Needs to Stand Up to the US  
Robert Koehler
Two Prongs of a Pitchfork
Bruce Raynor
In an Age of Fake News, Journalists Should be Activists for Truth
Max Parry
The U.S. Won’t Say ‘Genocide’ But Cares About Armenian Democracy?
William Gudal
The History of Israel on One Page
Robert Jensen
Neither cis nor TERF
Louis Proyect
Faith or Action in a World Hurtling Toward Oblivion?
David Yearsley
The Ubiquitous Mr. Desplat
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail