Why Wisconsin Matters to ALL Workers

by Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski

I recall vividly my first union job. At the age of 16, I joined the Amalgamated Meat Cutters Union as a supermarket clerk. I remember the good wages in my first paycheck and the sense of pride I felt when I received my first union card.

Back then, about a quarter of all private sector workers were union members. Collective bargaining allowed us a path to a better life. The standard of living rose, not just for those of us in a union, but even for those who weren’t.

But today, too few workers have the right to bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions. Years of assaults by corporations on the freedom to join unions have taken a terrible toll.

As the protests rage on over Gov. Scott Walker’s politically motivated attempt to strip Wisconsin’s public workers of collective bargaining, there’s too little discussion in the media about the decline in bargaining rights for private sector workers. Instead, opportunistic politicians like Walker have used the current economic crisis to help further their agenda to divide the middle class.

As private sector unionization declined from 25 percent to about 7 percent today, a gargantuan share of our nation’s wealth has left the middle class and gone to the very wealthy. Today, the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans receives 25 percent of our nation’s total share of income, up from 8.9 percent in the 1970s. CEOs, who once made 40 times what rank and file workers made, now rake in 350 times that of the average worker.

Meanwhile, wages for most of us have stagnated or declined over the last decade. Big corporations and Wall Street are profiting off an economic meltdown they largely created while middle-class families suffer. Corporations made record profits in 2010, while doing nothing to create jobs or boost workers. Wall Street bonuses and compensation are up too. Last year, Wall Street firms – including those bailed out by taxpayers — gave out more than $20 billion in executive bonuses.

The attack on unions has a direct correlation to the massive income inequality we face today. Big corporations have turned their back on their workers by reducing wages, cutting benefits and union busting. It used to be that CEOs had a stake in their workers’ economic security. Now it’s all about corporate profit, which the vast majority of workers never benefit from.

The real issue in Wisconsin, Ohio and other states where workers’ rights are under assault isn’t state budgets. Public servants like teachers, nurses, bus drivers and firefighters are in no way responsible for the economic crisis battering our families. These attacks are all about the extreme right-wing and their corporate backers furthering their goal of destroying ALL unions and the middle class we advocate for.

If more workers had the freedom to join unions and bargain collectively, there’d be more wealth in the hands of the middle class. And we’d have a healthier society as a result.

That’s why what’s happening in Wisconsin and other states matters to all workers. If the right-wing extremists succeed in these attacks, corporate CEOs and the politicians they control will forever alter the playing field in their favor, and our once-thriving middle class will become just a footnote in the history of America’s decline.

That’s why every worker must join this fight. This is our moment to stand united to defend our values, and beat back these vicious attacks on our unions, our families and our ideals. Click here for more information and ways you can get involved.

14 thoughts on “Why Wisconsin Matters to ALL Workers”

  1. The hotel I wanted to work at was a closed shop and I had to join. I frankly never got anything out of it. And some 35 years later, it remains my only union job

    Despite that, I still don’t like what the GOP is trying to do for a few basic reasons.

    First, whether you’re a woman or a worker, they’re trying to limit your right to make choices in your life. They claim to be all about small government, but they want to insert government in between workers and bosses, and between women and doctors. They’re also pretty insistent in telling folks what they can or can’t do in their own bedrooms. I want those choices. I want the right to make those decisions for myself.

    Second is exactly what you brought up about wealth inequality and a healthy society–and I might add a healthy economy. Extreme inequality has historically lead to huge economic and political shifts that grow out of staggering poverty, which may be what we’re seeing now worldwide. It is, in addition to being immoral, inherently unstable. It is not a sustainable system, as any economist can tell you. Nor will people endure it forever. We never have. And you’d think the fat cats would notice that eventually. But I guess they must have skipped history class one time too many.

    The unfortunate thing is that the misery that pushes people to push back is so awful and so unnecessary. As is the period of upheaval. We will all pay so much for the greed of a few.

  2. http://host.madison.com/news/s

    The Milwaukee teachers union finally drops lawsuit to restore their Viagra benefits.  One sentence destroys the whole image of “reasonable” Wisconsin Public Employee Unions.

    Public Employees are not the middle class – they are the upper class.  On average they are compensation at 1.5 to 2x the real middle class.  Of course, they don’t want the real middle class to think that.  The average Cupertino teacher with 10 years of experience has a salary of over $65/hour for actual teaching hours.  Do you have a salary like that?  And that is not counting pensions.  

  3. One thing that always struck me as odd is that unions are essentially organized and behave the same as they did since Teddy Roosevelt starting make it okay to be in a union. Over 100 years and they haven’t changed.

    The corporations they organize against have gone through several revisions, some even disappear.

    But unions behave the same – force dues the same way and are organized the same.  I guess they don’t have to compete for membership or on dues so they don’t necessarily offer the best to their workers (like the hotel post above). Then there is the story from more than a few of my friends and family members where they were told by their union bosses not to work to hard or they could put someone out of a job.

    Workers do need a voice but maybe the decline of union power is because they have failed to modernize.

  4. I have never been a member of a union, but I have run businesses and none were unionized.  I have no idea what you mean when you say that “too few workers have the right to bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions.”  My employees used to bargin for that stuff all the time.  They just didn’t do it collectively, but rather individually.  Good wages, benefits and conditions do not just flow out of collective bargining.

    Collective bargining can be beneficial to management as well as the workers.  Rather than working out a deal with each employee, it is sometimes much easier to work with a union.  Contracts for wages and benefits can be easier to administer and cause less unhappiness when done through a union.  

    Finally, union negotiators are professionals and know how to get to the heart of the issue quickly and efficiently.  I wish that labor issues were not always expressed in terms of us vs. them because a strong unified work force means a strong business.    

Comments are closed.