Unions 101 – We Are All Working Class

July 28, 2010

Having just left Las Vegas – a trip I set out on with the trepidatious goal of avoiding as much of the traditional Vegas Strip experience as possible, I’ve been ruminating on the efficiency of the Vegas machine at doing exactly what it is designed to do – extracting wealth from willing victims. Then Digby pointed me to John Cole who posted a George Carlin clip and something Carlin said really stuck in my mind. Speaking of the plight of America’s middle class, Carlin says

The table is tilted… the game is rigged…

And I thought to myself, “Gee, just like Las Vegas.”

Mandatory Disclaimer: I loved NN10. It was my first, and I can’t wait to do it again next year in a city I will feel a little more comfortable in. And I, for one, very happily noted the Union Bugs on the NN10 Made In America t-shirts and swag bags. Netroots Nation sets an awesome example by supporting American Union Workers.

With dozens of bars and restaurants, shops, swimming pools, convention facilities, theaters, bowling alleys, and more all prominently placed just steps from the hotel’s colossal central square casino, the only thing I did not see at the massive Rio Hotel complex was a church – I guess they don’t want the competition.

Not that that’s a bad thing – Vegas is organized religion without so much hypocrisy. Nor the promise of eternal life – Vegas manages to lure its true believers with a slim but instantly gratifying chance at riches and happiness right here and now.

Dizzied by bells and smoke and flesh and booze, the faithful are efficiently bled dry and more and bigger and better cash cathedrals are swiftly erected upon their desiccated remains.

Vegas is totally upfront about what it aims to do to its followers. The marks flock to the city knowing full well that the aim of their host is to leave them penniless, and that the odds are always with the house – the game is rigged, the table is tillted.

At least Vegas uses union labor to separate the masses from their asses – churches tend to find a way to get folks to work for a lot less than their labor is worth. Much like our economy of late.

And for most folks, a trip to Vegas is voluntary. But there’s nothing voluntary about being born into an economic world of rigged games and tilted tables. The victims of our economic casino are not willing dupes but the working class – we are all ensnared by a system that is increasingly efficient at extracting our wealth for the exclusive benefit of the ownership class.

It’s time to change the odds, to level the table a bit, and to fix the rigged games to ensure that the increasingly elusive American dream is an attainable reward, not a jackpot with impossibly high odds of winning. It’s time to join with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and America’s Labor Unions and begin to make the odds a little better for America’s working class.

Speaking as part of a panel on Building a Progressive Economic Vision, Trumka outlined the need for the the nation to invest in infrastructure, implement fair trade policies, change our tax policies, enact comprehensive immigration reform and reform our broken labor laws. The full panel included consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren, progressive Florida Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson, Center for Community Change Executive Director Deepak Bhargava, Green for All’s Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins and National People’s Action Executive Director George Goehl. (Watch it here.)

Trumka pointed out how the United States is falling behind other countries in creating green technology. While our nation is building 500 miles of high-speed rail, China has begun construction of 5,000 miles and is outspending the United States 2:1 on green technology, making it even far urgent for the United States to invest in green jobs and high-end manufacturing infrastructure now before we fall further behind.

For those who say we can’t afford to make these investments, Trumka explained how we can do it with a financial speculation tax that encourages capital to invest in concrete things and discourages unproductive speculation or paper pushing for a quick buck, all the while raising more than $100 billion. Trumka made it clear that lawmakers must not reduce the federal deficit at the expense of creating jobs.

Next up, Trumka described the need for anintegrated trade policy. The nation can’t focus solely on increasing exports, we need to focus on net exports. We can’t open our markets to other countries who won’t open theirs. We can’t support countries that murder trade unionists. All we want is to compete on a level playing field and to do that we must have fair trade policy.

Third, Trumka laid out what we must do to modify our tax policy:

We need a tax policy that encourages people to produce and manufacture things in this country, not reward those who outsource and produce things abroad. We have to close the loopholes that allow corporations who have record profits to use gimmicks to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.

Fourth, Trumka loudly and proudly spoke out in favor of comprehensive immigration reform and made it clear that every AFL-CIO union has endorsed our five-point plan for immigration reform. Current U.S. immigration policy has allowed corporations to create a permanent underclass of workers who they can take advantage of.

And finally, just as corporations have taken advantage of immigrants, they have skirted, exploited and violated labor laws that empower workers to form a union and bargain for a better life. The good jobs of the past were good jobs because workers organized and fought for fair wages and benefits. Without labor law reform, corporations will continue to take advantage of workers and no matter how much we invest in our economy, how much we increase our productivity, our wages will remain stagnant and we will continue to fall behind.

Immigration reform, a financial transactions tax, fair trade, infrastructure investment (clean energy and high speed rail leap to mind), job creation – The American Labor agenda lines up well with the larger progressive agenda. We’re all in the same economic boat – if you cash a paycheck you are working class – and the American Labor movement aims to lift us all up and rebuild a strong American middle class.


If you are not a union member, join Working America and get involved.
If you are a union member, join Working Families and get involved.
If you’re interested in forming a union at your workplace (that’s a BFD!), start here and stick to it.
Support American workers – use union shops whenever you can and buy from American manufacturers when possible.

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One Response to Unions 101 – We Are All Working Class

  1. florida politics on July 29, 2010 at 7:32 am

    Thanks for the fine post. One of the realities in Florida, and one that is rarely addressed, is that all of Florida’s traditional media outlets – including the supposedly “liberal” outlets like the Saint Pete Times – are virulently anti-union. There’s of course a reason for this: they’re all businesses, nothing more, nothing less. See .



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