Organized labor has been a driving force behind many of the gains the middle class has made throughout US history.
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When you are out barbecuing, catching a ballgame, or not doing anything on this Labor Day, you may want to pause for a moment and give thanks to the unions without which you’d probably be working today.
Organized labor has been a driving force behind many of the gains the middle class has made throughout US history. Well, not recent US history, of course, because Republicans have been busy eroding labor’s influence, which doesn’t benefit workers but does help corporations increase profits.
In 2022, union membership dropped to an all-time low, and it could fall below 10 percent for the first time ever this year.
While organized labor’s ranks are declining, its popularity is on the rise. Seven in ten Americans now approve of unions.
As well they should. Without unions, they would be working much longer hours. It was organized labor that gradually forced employers to give their employees more time off. As a result, Americans now work much less.
Oh, they also get to enjoy something called “the weekend” without having to clock in at work. Granted, thanks to modern technology, Americans now seem determined to work around the clock.
These kinds of successes are also the reason why huge corporations like Amazon or Starbucks are engaging in union-busting practices. Because they don’t want to sacrifice their profits for silly things like bathroom breaks for their employees, or living wages.
Speaking of, it is no coincidence that the federal minimum wage of $7.25 has remained stagnant for 14 years, which is the longest period ever without an increase. Therefore, in real dollars, it is now worth more than a quarter less than in 2009.
But, hey, who needs unions these days?
Apart from fighting for a higher minimum wage and more time off, organized labor has also been instrumental in ensuring that workers get overtime pay, unemployment benefits, and workers’ compensation.
These gains were won with the tears, sweat, and, in many cases, blood of union members.
But organized labor has not only stood up for workers’ rights. After sometimes standing in the way of racial equality early on, unions and their members increasingly became an ally of the civil rights movement.
For example, the full name of the March on Washington at which Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and 40,000 union members participated.
So, when you are out and about today, take a second to appreciate what organized labor has done for you (unless you are the CEO or a shareholder of a large corporation).
And be appreciative that you don’t have to head to work in the mines on a holiday. At least you could have spent time with your kids there, because without unions, child labor would also still be legal.