March 14, 2014
Don’t do the economy? The the economy will do you!
North Carolina’s unions and community partners gathered inside the union hall of Teamsters Local 391 in Raleigh on Wednesday to strengthen ties between progressive allies and to get trained in how to teach courses in “common sense economics”, a pilot program of the national AFL-CIO, which got its first trial-run in North Carolina. Over forty people took part in the training, and each new trainer is now ready to take this new course on populist economics on the road to every corner of this state.
Innovations like common sense economics and community-labor partnerships are the key to raising the wages of all workers and to building a new southern workers movement, one that can rebalance the scales of economic justice in the South.
America’s unions adopted a series of resolutions at the national AFL-CIO convention last fall to open the doors of union membership to all workers, to begin having common sense conversations about economics that empower – not discourage – workers, and to devise a new strategy to organize workers in the South.
“The economy is not the weather. It does not just happen to us,” began the text of Resolution 7. The economy we have today is a result of choices made by those who exercise power.
The AFL-CIO’s common sense economics curriculum, while still in development, is designed to teach workers that “the economy” is just another way of talking about the wealth they create every day at work – and to remind them that without their labor there would be no economy.
Like governments, markets operate by a set of rules – rules that prohibit child labor and that require workers be paid a minimum wage, for example. Having those rules is common sense.
When the rules of the market stop working for the majority Americans and are rewritten to serve and enrich only the wealthy and corporations, the people have the power to change the rules. Changing rules that do not benefit the good of the whole is also common sense.
Wednesday’s “train-the-trainer” training on common sense economics in Raleigh was just the next step taken by the North Carolina State AFL-CIO and its community partners to turn the national AFL-CIO’s resolutions into reality.
Last month, about 150 students, scholars, activists, and labor and community organizers attended “Organize the South”, a panel discussion at Duke University about how a southern workers movement can change the nation. The panel was itself a response to Resolution 26, which committed the AFL-CIO and its affiliates to developing a long-term strategy to organize southern workers.
Speakers at the Duke panel included Chris Kromm with the Institute for Southern Studies; Keith Ludlum with UFCW Local 1208, representing about 5,000 workers at Smithfield Foods in Tar Heel, NC; and MaryBe McMillan, Secretary-Treasurer of the NC State AFL-CIO.
“Lots of folks now are talking about poverty, inequality, problems in public schools,” said MaryBe McMillan, “but they aren’t talking about the underlying cause of these problems, which is that families don’t have enough income.”
American workers are working harder and are more productive than ever, but for the last thirty years, the link between productivity and wages has been broken. The minimum wage of $7.25 today is worth less in real dollars today than it was in 1968. Meanwhile, the ratio of CEO pay to that of their average worker has skyrocketed since 1982 from 42 to 1 to 354 to 1 today. The lesson of common sense economics is that it does not have to be that way.
From Moral Monday to Fast Food strikes sweeping the region, southern workers, increasingly pushed to their resistance point, are hungry for change and for hope that things can be different.
America’s middle class is in crisis, and America’s unions are responding by working in partnership with the community to pull back the veil that obscures workers’ true power to bring economic justice across this nation.
“We can take control of our economy again, and we can bring hope to workers in the South that it can be better,” said Carolyn Smith with Working America. “So we’re doing it.”