Workers Should Share in Wealth They Help Create

 

April 2014

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The AFL-CIO executive council, on which SIU President Michael Sacco is the longest-serving member, recently approved a statement that clearly spells out many of the labor movement’s core goals.

 

Meeting in Houston in late February, the council passed 11 resolutions, one of which specifically addressed labor’s firm belief that workers have a right to share in the gains they help generate. Titled “Broad-Based Wage Growth Is the Defining Challenge of Our Time” (a quote from President Obama), the statement provides insight into goals shared by the federation and its 56 affiliates (including the SIU), that collectively represent an estimated 12.5 million workers. The text is as follows:

 

“The purpose of the labor movement is to give voice to working people so we can improve our lives, our nation and our world. The principle that all working people share in the wealth we create through rising wages has always been at the heart of our movement.

 

“In 1996, this Council issued a statement titled America Needs a Raise. Since 1997, according to the Economic Policy Institute, 100 percent of the wage growth in the U.S. economy has gone to the top 10 percent of the income structure. Income for the bottom 90 percent declined.

 

“At the 2013 AFL-CIO convention, we committed to the battle to raise wages in all their forms. In the 2013 elections, the fight against inequality and wage stagnation propelled Bill de Blasio and Marty Walsh to victories in New York and Boston, and the voters themselves raised the minimum wage in cities and states across the country. Meanwhile low-wage workers across the country struck for higher wages and collective bargaining. These successful efforts by working people have put raising wages at the center of our public life.

 

“We therefore view the great national conversation about economic inequality that is now taking place as both an opportunity and a challenge for our movement. Working people have the opportunity to shape the conversation in ways that help workers win real economic improvements and build a true working-class movement. Our challenge is to keep the growing momentum for change from being deflected by tokenism and distractions.

 

“In a landmark speech last December, President Obama warned of a ‘dangerous and growing inequality’ and declared that making our economy work for every working American was the ‘defining challenge of our time.’ Pope Francis similarly warned last year that ‘inequality is the root of social ills’ and called for ‘attacking the structural causes of inequality.’

 

“But before we can tackle the structural causes of inequality, we have to understand what they are. Inequality did not just happen. It was not an accident or an act of God. It was the predictable result of decisions made by people with power in America over the past generation. The key decision was to use the power of government to help corporate America push down wages by destroying workers’ bargaining power.

 

“Any serious effort to attack the structural causes of inequality must begin with restoring the individual and collective bargaining power of all workers. Wage and income stagnation is a problem affecting the 90 percent, not just the poorest people in America, though it is the poorest workers whose lives are most blighted by falling real wages.

 

“If we care about economic inequality, we have to raise wages and living standards across the board. It’s that simple. If we care about a healthy economy no longer plagued by financial booms and busts, we have to raise wages and living standards. If we care about a healthy society, with a sense that we are all in this together, we have to raise wages and living standards. Broad-based wage growth is the defining challenge of our time.

 

“Broad-based wage growth begins with the principle that everybody – including tipped workers, agricultural workers and victims of wage theft – should be paid at least a minimum wage. But it does not end there. The minimum wage is just that – a bare minimum. All workers deserve to be paid a living wage that allows them to provide for themselves and their families. And every worker should be allowed to bargain for better wages and better living standards. “Broad-based wage growth is very different from the fantasy that everybody can be rich – or the reality that a few of us will become rich. Wages must grow with productivity if our economy is to provide economic security and dignity to the vast majority of people who never will be rich, but who work hard every day and deserve their fair share of the enormous wealth they produce. Our economy used to provide those things, but no longer does. Our challenge is to make sure it does so once again.

 

“The public is rightly focused on falling wages and rising economic inequality, thanks in large part to the courage of striking Walmart and fast food workers across the country. According to one recent poll, 66 percent agree that ‘government should work to substantially reduce the income gap between rich and poor.’ “The public understands that there is something wrong with our economy when almost all (95 percent) of the income gains since the end of the Great Recession have gone to the wealthiest 1 percent. Working people are hungry for solutions, and in workplaces and communities across the country, we are demanding action: increases in the minimum wage, an end to the exclusion of tipped workers from the minimum wage laws and, most importantly, the right to bargain collectively over wages.

 

“Now, as the 2014 elections approach and workers at Walmart and T-Mobile, workers in fast food and other restaurants and workers in the streets of Raleigh, N.C., stand up, the question the labor movement intends to put to every person in power in America – every politician and every employer – is a simple one:

 

 “Are you for, as President Obama said, ‘making sure our economy works for every working American,’ or are you for inequality; for what Pope Francis calls ‘a new tyranny’ fueled by the ‘idolatry of money’?

 

“Raising wages requires collective bargaining and fundamental labor law reform. Only through workers bargaining with their employers can we raise wages for the 90 percent.

 

“Raising wages and full employment go together. Raising wages drives up demand that drives hiring, and full employment gives workers bargaining power.

 

“Raising wages requires that workers’ organizing drives and collective bargaining campaigns succeed – especially at giant corporate employers like Walmart that are at the core of Big Business’ generation-long effort to cut wages and impoverish working families.

 

“Raising wages requires understanding that employers in industries like retail have learned to use scheduling and other complicated personnel practices to keep wages low. That’s why collective bargaining is necessary to make sure wage gains are real, and Our Walmart’s demand of a minimum annual salary of $25,000 for all employees at America’s largest private employer is so important.

 

“To succeed, we must as a labor movement frame these campaigns as what they really are: fights for raising wages and broadly shared prosperity and against inequality, and as fights worthy of broader support from other parts of the labor movement, our allies and the public.

 

“Raising wages requires passing the many legislative and electoral initiatives under way at the federal, state and local levels that aim to raise wages and improve working conditions for millions of workers – beginning with raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, and including efforts to win paid sick days and end unequal pay for equal work.

 

“Raising wages requires that workers’ voices not be weakened, and that means defeating state-level legislative attacks on workers and our unions, such as right to work for less and paycheck deception. “Raising wages requires a more effective labor movement. At the 2013 convention, we committed to creating stronger and more durable bonds with our allies at the local, state, and national levels; and encouraging a progressive tendency in both political parties. Focusing on wages, quality jobs and a thriving middle class will help us achieve these goals.

 

“Raising wages requires involving workers through both traditional and nontraditional membership in the labor movement, such as Working America.

 

“Most of all, raising wages is about the path to shared prosperity, a future worthy of our children and grandchildren, about a society in which we are truly in this together.”

 

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