Saturday, August 20, 2016

Rejecting Unions Is Racist and Misogynistic

Low-paying non-union service jobs are held by women and minorities.  High-paying unionized manufacturing jobs are held by white men.
But there's no law of physics that says service jobs have to be low-paying. All they need is a union.

That's why it's not just a Fight for Fifteen.  It's a Fight for Fifteen and a Union.

Why do factory workers make more in Michigan? In a word: unions. The Midwest was, at least until recently, a bastion of union strength. Southern states, by contrast, are mostly “right-to-work” states where unions never gained a strong foothold. Private-sector unions have been shrinking across the country for decades, but they are stronger in the Midwest than in most other parts of the country. In Michigan, 23 percent of manufacturing production workers were union members in 2015; in South Carolina, less than 2 percent were.
Unions also help explain why the middle class is healthier in the Midwest than in the Southeast, where manufacturing jobs have been growing rapidly in recent decades. A new analysis from the Pew Research Center this week explored the state of the middle class in different parts of the country by looking at the share of households making between two-thirds and double the national median income, after controlling for the local cost of living. In many Midwestern cities, 60 percent or more of households are considered “middle-income” by this definition; in some Southern cities, even those with large manufacturing bases, middle-income households are now in the minority.
Even in the Midwest, however, unions are weakening and the middle class is shrinking. In the Indianapolis metro area, where the Carrier plant Trump talks about is located, the share of households in the middle tier of earners has shrunk to 54.8 percent in 2014 from 58.9 percent in 2000. And unlike in some parts of the country, the decline in the middle class there has been primarily driven by people falling into the lower tier of earners, not moving up. The Carrier plant, where workers make more than $20 an hour, is unionized.
But this much is clear: For all of the glow that surrounds manufacturing jobs in political rhetoric, there is nothing inherently special about them. Some pay well; others don’t. They are not immune from the forces that have led to slow wage growth in other sectors of the economy. When politicians pledge to protect manufacturing jobs, they really mean a certain kind of job: well-paid, long-lasting, with opportunities for advancement. Those aren’t qualities associated with working on a factory floor; they’re qualities associated with being a member of a union.
When Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton or anyone call to bring back manufacturing jobs per se, what they are saying is primarily that they want good paying jobs for working class Americans again. And where those good paying jobs exist, like at the Carrier plant, they need to remain there. But the reason that we think that manufacturing jobs pay well is because a century of union struggles. As we can see when those manufacturing jobs go overseas, just because you work in manufacturing doesn’t mean you have a good job. What you have is usually a hot, dangerous, exploitative job where you have no rights and that takes very little brain power. The workers of Bangladesh, Honduras, and China could tell you that just because you have a manufacturing job does not mean you have a good life. So could the workers in Lordstown in 1972. 
What made that palatable to American workers after 1935 was that they could unionize those factories and thus give their lives dignity. That legacy is still with us as manufacturing still usually pays better than fast food. But there’s nothing inherently more dignified in working in a timber mill than there is flipping burgers. The difference is that we don’t see those jobs as jobs that should be paid well and should be unionized. Popularly, they are seen as entry level jobs. But the woman in the chain coffee shop where I am writing this post is in her 40s and is probably making not much more than minimum wage, as are so many service industry workers. Those jobs should be union jobs too. They should make as much as steel workers made in 1965 or whatever. Manufacturing is never coming back to the United States in 1965 numbers. That’s for a number of reasons. Globalization is not going to put back into a box. And what jobs do come back are going to be heavily automated. This we know.

That doesn’t mean that we should ignore manufacturing. Whether in the U.S. or Honduras or Bangladesh, the goal needs to be that workers of the world make enough money to live a good life, have a say over their conditions of work, do not get exposed to pollution, and work in safe workplaces, among other things. That happens only with unions. And in the current globalized world with modern trade agreements, it happens with workers and citizens having access to the new legal systems developed to protect corporate rights and it happens with companies be held legally accountable for their supply chains.
One other critical point here, which is that manufacturing nostalgia is also nostalgia for the age of the white male single breadwinner. And while I support jobs that pay enough to support a family, there’s definitely social and racial problems here and there’s no question that these issues animate the nostalgia people feel for these jobs.

But whatever the job, wherever it is, people live dignified lives if they have unions. If they don’t have unions, their lives are worse. That’s why companies are engaging in extreme capital mobility, creating extralegal courts to protect their rights, using opaque supply chains, putting long-term temp workers on the same workplace floors as unionized workers, etc. The goal is to repeal workers’ gains of the last century.

Our goal therefore needs to be to move the gains of the last century onto the jobs of the new century while doing what we can to ensure that wherever companies move their production that those gains will also be achievable by the workers of the world. Until we do that, our dignity will be under constant threat. But fundamentally, it doesn’t really matter whether the jobs is in a steel mill, a hamburger joint, or teaching. All workers must have good wages and unions.

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