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Issue #6 - help for working Americans

Labor unions are thought to be political champions of working people. However, there is a difference between looking out for workers generally - i.e., having a broad social vision -and narrowly servicing their own members. Since unionized workers tend to have higher wages and benefits than their non-union counterparts, public opinion today is less inclined to support unions when they strike for higher wages and drive up costs that lower-income people outside their organizations will have to bear.

The labor movement was built on the struggle for a shorter work day. Too often, today’s unions seem to be fighting for more overtime opportunities than further reductions in hours. Abandoning its own mission, organized labor has fallen on hard times.

The percentage of American workers who belong to unions has dropped to 12.4 percent compared with 36 percent in 1945. Where union membership was once concentrated among workers employed in private business firms, today 36 percent of government employees belong to unions compared with 7 percent of private-sector employees.

Outsourcing of production to low-wage countries abroad has decimated many private-sector jobs. This highly disturbing trend does not affect government employees as much as who wins the next election. Therefore, organized labor has put its resources behind helping Democrats be elected to public office. It has become an election auxiliary of the Democratic Party.

The challenge for progressive Republicans is to side with America’s working class, which is predominantly nonunion, without opposing the private business sector. We can be friends both to labor and management. How so?

Start with the fact that a majority of the U.S. work force now consists of women. Women, perhaps more than men, have child-bearing and child-rearing responsibilities. Employer policies regarding sick leave and leave for other personal reasons needs to be much more generous and flexible than it now is. If employers will not grant needed time off on their own, then government should require it. No worker having to attend to a sick child at home should need to put herself or himself at risk of being fired.

Let the Democrats cater to public-sector employees. Let conservative Republicans serve the large business firms. We, progressive Republicans, should represent the broad interest of society. In the capitalist system, work is the moral justification for receiving an economic reward. We are at risk of creating instead a society where many people prefer welfare to work. Real take-home income peaked during the latter years of the Nixon administration.

Progressive Republicans should be proposing legislation for shorter workweeks and minimum vacations. Forty years after the International Labor Organization set a standard of three weeks’ paid vacation for workers with at least one year of seniority, most Americans still receive less. We also need strong, enforceable occupational-safety rules. We need better and more affordable health care for people who work.

Working Americans, neglected by America’s bipartisan political class, has fallen well short of workers in other industrialized countries with respect to income, leisure, and other benefits. In this case, government needs to intervene.

 

See also:

papers on shorter working hours

 

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