Guest column by Ralph Nader
Labor Day just isn’t what it used to be. The parades are smaller, the unionized workforce is smaller, the share of the economic pie available for working people in the United States is smaller and the demands by organized labor on Congress and the presidential candidates are embarrassingly smaller than the times demand.
Last year I issued a Labor Day statement noting that the Taft‑Hartley Act, one of the great blows to American democracy, had been in effect for 60 years. Well another year has come and gone and this law is still in place. Taft-Harley continues to: impede employees' right to join together in labor unions; undermine the power of unions to represent workers' interests effectively; and authorize an array of anti‑union activities by employers. (See: http://www.nader.org/index.php/archives/1220‑Repeal‑the‑Taft‑Hartley‑Act.html for a more detailed description of the anti-worker provisions of this anti-worker law.)
Union officials should speak out for abolition of Taft‑Hartley, and not concede this monumental employer usurpation of worker rights. Against the backdrop of the assault on labor that has included aggressive employer demands for concessions, the downward pull of international low-wage workers, weak and barely enforced labor and workplace safety laws, most workers have seen wage rates almost stagnate over the past several decades—even as CEO salaries have skyrocketed.
Major union leaders in the United States do vocally support the Employee Free Choice Act (H.R. 800, S. 1041) which according to the AFL-CIO will: “Establish stronger penalties for violation of employee rights when workers seek to form a union and during first‑contract negotiations. Provide mediation and arbitration for first‑contract disputes. [And,] [a]llow employees to form unions by signing cards authorizing union representation” On March 1, 2007 H.R. 800, which has introduced by Congressman George Miller, D-CA, and which has 233 co-sponsors, passed on a roll call vote with 241 votes in favor of the bill and 185 opposed. On June 26, 2007 the Senate tried to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, but the Republicans, with the exception of Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania filibustered the bill. The Employee Free Choice Act should, however, be but one battle in the fight to restore worker rights in the United States.
Remember the “fat cats” continue to accumulate and concentrate wealth. And George W. Bush’s recession has only exacerbated the plight of working men and women.
Employers have slashed benefits for those workers lucky enough to retain a job. And many workplaces remain far more hazardous than necessary.
Most people struggle to get by and they are working more and more—either working longer hours or picking up a second or third job—to pay the bills and meet rent or mortgage payments. In two-parent families, increasingly both parents are in the workforce. Just to meet everyday expenses, they’re borrowing more and more from credit cards, home equity loans, or second mortgages, or from legal loan sharks at check-cashing operations. If someone in the family gets sick and lacks health insurance—forty-five million Americans are in that boat—the economic pressures on the family can be overwhelming. Even if a family has insurance, the exorbitant price of medicine may not be covered, or covered entirely, and paying for the pills can drive a family into despair.
The Economic Policy Institute reports that: “The inflation‑adjusted value of the minimum wage is 19 percent lower in 2008 than it was in 1979. Since September 1997, the cost of living has risen 32 percent, while the minimum wage, even after the increase to $6.55, has fallen in real value.”
In recent times, the gap between haves and have-nots is more severe and the demands for worker rights have never been more powerless since World War 2.
Consider the following:
· S&P 500 CEOs now make about 344 times more than the average worker at their firms.
· The top fifth of households own more than 84.7 percent of the nation’s wealth, the middle fifth percent less than 3.8 percent of the nation's wealth.
· The percent of wealth owned and controlled by the wealthiest 1 percent of households, now equals that of the bottom 92 percent.
· Women and minority males earn 69 percent to 80 percent of what White men make. In addition, more than a third of single mothers with children live in poverty.
Repealing Taft-Hartley would certainly help workers to organize for better wages and working conditions. The fight would be monumental, but so would the gains.