DMI Blog

Amy Traub

DMI Contributes to the Debate We Need

You might have seen the Campaign for America’s Future ads in the New York Times and elsewhere: stop with the horse race journalism and give us a debate worthy of a great nation in trouble.

I took the bait and submitted an essay. Asked how the nation can reclaim the American dream of a broadly shared prosperity, I argue that working people need more power in the labor market. It’s not enough to call for education and worker retraining to enable Americans to achieve and hold onto a middle-class standard of living when, in fact, millions of jobs in the future and the present don’t call for a college degree.

Today, if you are a child-care worker or security guard (both also among the next decade’s most in-demand occupations), you are likely receiving low pay and poor benefits. But history tells us that it doesn’t have to be that way. In the early 20th century, when the booming manufacturing sector offered dangerous, low-paid work on assembly lines and factory floors, a wave of union organizing and bargaining lifted wages and improved benefits and working conditions. Those formerly awful manufacturing jobs have become the good jobs we now lament losing to overseas competition. To a large extent, today’s modern middle class is a legacy of those union advances, which set the standard for gains like employer-sponsored health coverage, pensions and paid vacation.

Once again, I’m advocating the Employee Free Choice Act, a game-changing piece of legislation that directly attacks the systemic problem of employees’ lack of power in the labor market. The impact would boost low-wage service employees struggling to gain a middle-class standard of living as well as college-educated professionals trying to hold onto it. We can legislate universal health care, mandate paid sick days, raise the minimum wage or subsidize take-home pay with the earned income tax credit, but empowering people to join unions directly redistributes economic power back to working people, enabling Americans to win gains for themselves in the workplace.

It won’t make the problems of globalization go away, but I think reclaiming some power in our own workplaces is the necessary first step. Check out the whole essay here.

Amy Traub: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 9:14 AM, Sep 24, 2008 in Economy | Education | Labor | Progressive Agenda
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