November 14, 2013
Telling only half the story about ‘Inequality for All’
The entry is by our Secretary-Treasurer, MaryBe McMillan. It’s about how, when talking about inequality, we also have to talk about how unions lead to shared prosperity in order to tell the whole story of how we got to the current, historic level of income inequality in the United States and how we can fix it.
“Progressives around the country are flocking to see Robert Reich’s new documentary, Inequality for All,” says MaryBe. “In the film, Reich makes a strong case for how unions grow the middle class. So why aren’t more people talking about the importance of unions?”
As a labor leader, one of my greatest pet peeves is the absence of labor rights from so many discussions about poverty and inequality. I’ve often joked that too many Democrats and progressives treat “union” like a four-letter word: it is said only in certain company and often under great duress. Heck, even some folks in the labor movement avoid the word, preferring instead to talk about “committees” and “associations”.
I know all too well the negative stereotypes associated with unions, but I don’t see how we will ever change those stereotypes and, more importantly, how we’ll ever achieve shared prosperity, if we are unwilling to talk about unions. After all, it’s not like we’ve made any progress for workers by skirting the issue. Wages have stagnated, inequality has increased, and the safety net continues to unravel.
If we want that to change, we need to quit letting Corporate America define the narrative and the words we use to tell it. Too many politicians and pundits on the Left are talking about entitlements and deficits when instead the narrative we should be telling is this: We live in the richest country in the world. America’s not broke, but too many of our citizens are. That’s why we need to create jobs and raise wages. And it’s why we need to allow workers to organize unions and collectively bargain.
Absurd income inequality in the United States today is the product of a concerted, well-organized, well-financed effort by Corporate America and its bought politicians to undermine the organized opposition to organized greed.
The fact is only organized workers can fight back and win against organized greed, which is why it’s more important than ever that we talk about how unions have fought back and won for working people in the past and how, working together, we can make those victories happen again.
First we have to be willing to say the word “union”. Beginning the conversation can be as simple as repeating our guiding principle, “What’s good for workers is good for business!”
That seems like such a radical idea only because so few of us say it. Likewise, unions seem so foreign and potentially scary because so few of us talk about them.
And that’s exactly what the Koch Brothers and right-wing ideologues want. They want to define unions as bad. CEOs and conservative politicians have long realized that unions give workers a voice not only in the workplace but also at the ballot box and in the policy debate. It’s high time that progressives realized that as well.
Let’s have a conversation that matters. Let’s talk about unions.