As we approach this year’s Labor Day, workers find themselves in a steady, slow decline in wages for their work. According to the , since 1979, worker productivity has increased by more than 69% while wages have only grown 11.6%. Over the last 40 years, workers have been working harder, but not getting ahead.
Many workers today do not know the world of our parents and grandparents where jobs were plentiful and paid life sustaining wages. They also do not know a world of a vibrant Labor movement that drove up wages and benefits for all workers and helped create the middle class. Corporate attacks against unions have been attacks on workers who want to provide for their families and who hold out hope for a piece of the American dream. In addition to corporate attacks on workers, bad governmental decision making, technological changes, and changing forces in our national economy have forced a majority of our workers to their economic knees. In central New York we have watched job loss after job loss, the latest being 150 AT&T workers here in Syracuse. has showed that the Syracuse middle class has shrunk since 2000, and our manufacturing base has decreased in the same time period. Many of those entities were unionized facilities.
But it isn’t solely these attacks that have weakened the labor unions. Much like other organizations, we have flaws that are reflected in our larger community: a suspicion of those who are different from us, petty rivalries, not always holding each other accountable, and eschewing innovation in favor of tradition. These flaws have limited our reach, but our core values hold true: justice, equality, promoting the general welfare and most of all, solidarity. At our core, we do believe that all workers are in it together, and that we all do better, when we all do better.
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We continue to fight for fair wages and benefits that not only lift our members up but also workers throughout our community. We advocate for larger issues in our society, such as advocating for a $15 minimum wage, healthcare for all, and for racial justice. We want to build a community where we all can benefit and have an opportunity to thrive.
This Labor Day, it’s time for our community to get up from our knees. We need to take control of our future. We must acknowledge where we can make changes and make good decisions. Instead of waiting for a big company, like General Electric or Amazon to be our salvation, we need to focus our own resources on creating jobs with local businesses for local residents. We need to hold employers who wantonly violate their employees’ rights to organize a union accountable and ensure that workers have a voice in their workplace. We need to have our leadership reflect our community. Syracuse is now a “majority-minority” city, and a union member is more likely to be a female and/or a person of color. It is time to lift up these voices and leaders who don’t fit the usual demographic profile.
In the past, unions provided the backbone to build the middle class, and it’s time to strengthen this backbone again for a better future.