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

January 21, 2019
W. T. Whitney
New US Economic Attack Against Cuba, Long Threatened, May Hit Soon
Jérôme Duval
Macronist Repression Against the People in Yellow Vests
Dean Baker
The Next Recession: What It Could Look Like
Eric Mann
All Hail the Revolutionary King: Martin Luther King and the Black Revolutionary Tradition
Binoy Kampmark
Spy Theories and the White House: Donald Trump as Russian Agent
Edward Curtin
We Need a Martin Luther King Day of Truth
Bill Fried
Jeff Sessions and the Federalists
Ed Corcoran
Central America Needs a Marshall Plan
Colin Todhunter
Complaint Lodged with European Ombudsman: Regulatory Authorities Colluding with Agrochemicals Industry
Manuel E. Yepe
The US War Against the Weak
Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl
Cesar Chelala
President Donald Trump’s “Magical Realism”
Christopher Brauchli
An Education in Fraud
Paul Bentley
The Death Penalty for Canada’s Foreign Policy?
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO
Louis Proyect
Breaking the Left’s Gay Taboo
Kani Xulam
A Saudi Teen and Freedom’s Shining Moment
Ralph Nader
Bar Barr or Regret this Dictatorial Attorney General
Jessicah Pierre
A Dream Deferred: MLK’s Dream of Economic Justice is Far From Reality
Edward J. Martin
Glossip v. Gross, the Eighth Amendment and the Torture Court of the United States
Chuck Collins
Shutdown Expands the Ranks of the “Underwater Nation”
Paul Edwards
War Whores
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail