Monday, March 31, 2014

The Reverse New Deal: Worker productivity rises, corporate profits soar, workers are punished

(New Deal policymakers felt that hard work should pay. Today's mentality--dominated by right-wing, anti-union philosophy--seems to be the opposite: Work harder, and be happy with lower wages, so that executives and wealthy investors can have (a) lives of ever-increasing luxury and (b) families that never have to work again, i.e., inheritance. WPA poster image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)     

It was recently reported that corporate profits hit another record high in 2013. We also know that worker productivity has been on the rise as well. On the other hand, worker pay has been dropping and the middle-class has been shrinking. What gives? Why aren't workers reaping the benefits of their increased productivity? Why are executives and wealthy investors pocketing all the extra profit?   

We know that the nationwide decline in union membership has coincided with the nationwide stagnation of wages. Of course, this is common sense. Going to see your manager about a raise, by yourself, is not nearly as effective as the entire workforce of a business requesting a raise.

I once had the misfortune of working for a big retailer. During the orientation, they played an anti-union video. A very attractive young woman in the video told us that unions weren't necessary and that, if there were any problems, you could just go talk to the manager. Our employer then went on to describe the low-wages we would be paid, and the very systematic and miserly raises we would be eligible for over time. This, of course, negated the whole "talking-to-your-manager-is-just-as-effective-as-being-in-a-union" argument. It was very clear that there would not be any one-on-one negotiations, between workers and managers, about wages or anything else that might benefit workers.

(The National Labor Relations Board is a product of the New Deal. It monitors unfair labor practices. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

During the New Deal, policymakers created the National Labor Relations Act which protected the right of labor unions to exist and to negotiate for better pay and work conditions. These policymakers pushed us in the direction of more equitable income opportunities. We followed their lead for decades but, since the "Reagan Revolution," we've dropped the ball. Hence, the American Dream is dead for millions of workers stuck in low-wage, stingy-benefit, no-future jobs....while struggling with higher prices and (thus) higher debt.

Bamboozled by trickle-down economics, free market fantasies, and Ayn Rand comic books, younger generations of Americans will have to learn why unions are so important, i.e., why their elders and ancestors fought bullets and corporate thugs to gain better pay, benefits, and working conditions.  

(A WPA poster promoting worker safety. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

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