In the summer of 2011 I was doing some work for a client in Athens, Georgia, a property management company specializing in rental properties in this university town. Jim and I got into a discussion about the auto bail-outs. I made the point that the Obama Administration should have met with the corporate boards of GM and Chrysler and made it clear that as a condition of providing the required financial aid that not only would the top executives have to go, without a golden parachute, and that the production facilities built overseas and the jobs that went with them would have to return to the territorial United States. Jim heartily agreed with that. Then I said that these jobs would, as a requirement for Federal assistance, be unionized. That’s where we parted company. “Oh no” was the response, “we don’t need unions”.
This has been, by and large, the mantra of the generation of swine. I cannot relate how many times I’ve engaged in similar conversations with my peers over the years and elicited the same response. For reasons having to do with the prosperity into which we were born, the shameless education we received, and the collective greed and ignorance we have brought to bear, the Swine have, almost to a man, repeated the mantra of their collective corporate paymasters when it comes to issues surrounding the work place. My response to Jim was, as it has always been, a polite variant of the question “What have you got against the middle class”?
It is not often taught in the schools anymore, in this sanitized version of our collective history organized as it is around performance testing; but today’s post-industrial middle class is a product of a combination of political will and organizing the labor force in the work place. As the old middle class, founded on the family farm, was fading into history, the New Deal consciously replaced it with a new industrial middle class by not only instituting a far more progressive tax code, establishing the 40 hour work week, creating unemployment insurance but by also making it easier, with the Fair Labor Standards Act, to organize the work place. Granted the power, instead of facing the opposition of government to bargain Americans by the millions joined unions creating higher wages, safer working conditions, vacations, pension programs and a relatively secure purchase on the growing American Middle Class.
No more. In the last 40 years union membership has continued to decline as a percentage of the workforce. Boomers, bidding a farewell to the stigmata of the “blue collar”, thinking that such collective associations too “working class” and quite beneath them, shunned the very idea of walking into a union hall. This is America, they declaimed, where the individual stands alone. Here one makes it with one’s own grit, determination, and character, it was proclaimed. Here we stand or fall on our own merits. And so, by the end of the century, the great American Middle Class, shorn of its collective voice and standing naked and alone before the angry gods of greed, finds itself under assault and driven to the point of looming extinction.
Here is a graph, compliments of MSNBC’s “The Ed Show”, and published by the center for American Progress, showing the relationship between the decline of Union membership and the decline in the share of the national wealth held by the Middle Class: Corker knew what he was doing when he stood on the Senate floor and demanded the diminution of the benefits of organizing the workplace. He was simply genuflecting to his corporate paymasters, the angry gods of greed.