Despite the longest economic “recovery” in modern U.S. history, the outrageous income and wealth inequality in our country place us as one of the most unequal societies in the world. 95 percent of all economic growth since the Great Recession of 2008 has gone to the top one percent, with most working people seeing no real wage growth until very recently.
Indeed, mainstream economists have expressed astonishment at how slowly wages have grown even in the current period of sustained low unemployment, despite what the “laws” of the “free market” would predict. They have turned to once-obscure economic concepts like “monopsony” (labor markets dominated by a single employer) and some have even begun to reevaluate mainstream economics’ traditional hostility to labor unions. A 2018 study of historical data by four economists found conclusive evidence that the widespread unionization of the mid-20th century raised wages across the board for working people and was instrumental in creating the period of greatest prosperity and relative economic equality in U.S. history.
In addition to the increasing gap in income over the last few decades, the racial disparity of wealth has also increased. White families have 12 times the wealth of African Americans and 10 times the wealth of Latinxs. The predatory subprime mortgages pushed by banks to African Americans, Latinxs, and many other working-class home buyers in the 2000s resulted in a 48 percent drop in African-American wealth during the Great Recession. Latinx and African-American families also earn significantly less money than their white counterparts, lagging $18,000 and $28,000, respectively, behind the median white family income.
Women’s income is only 80 percent of men’s income, with women of color receiving even less. The gender wealth gap is even more significant, with single women’s wealth being only 32 percent of single men’s, and women of color again faring even worse.
Fundamental political changes are needed to reverse this massive inequality of wealth.
Senator Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign raised economic inequality as an important political issue, calling for a vast overhaul of the political and financial systems. In doing so, he excited a new generation of political activists. The “political revolution” inspired by his campaign has spread, with a wave of unabashedly pro-worker candidates winning election to positions from city council to the U.S. Congress. Sanders’ policy positions dominate the current Democratic presidential primary.
Bills and proposals from Sanders and his allies to enact Medicare for All (single-payer healthcare), raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour, establish free college tuition and abolish student debt would go a long way to relieve economic pressure on working-class families. The Green New Deal proposed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey would create millions of good, union jobs while addressing the threat of climate change. The boldness of these policies has inspired even more ambitious proposals to direct our society’s wealth into other projects that are socially useful and create good jobs, including infrastructure, publicly-and-cooperatively-owned housing, and a social wealth fund.
Technological change continues to transform the way we work and the jobs that are available to us. The only effective way to deal with the challenges posed by the “future of work” is to increase workers’ power to fight for a fair share of the wealth we produce. Strengthening workers’ ability to organize unions through legislation like the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act and Senator Sanders’ Workplace Democracy Act is a good first step, and proposals to establish sectoral-level collective bargaining, like those advanced by former CWA president and long-time friend of UE Larry Cohen, deserve serious consideration and support from the labor movement.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT THIS 76th UE CONVENTION:
- Demands Congress:
- Enact a federal jobs program to stimulate the economy by addressing climate change, investing in infrastructure, and assisting funding-starved state and local governments;
- Raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour by passing the Raise the Wage Act;
- Pass labor law reform, including the PRO Act and the Workplace Democracy Act, to restore and expand workers’ right to organize;
- Pass Medicare for All, single-payer healthcare legislation;
- Enact legislation to establish free public higher education and forgive student debt;
- Address the housing crisis by declaring a moratorium on home foreclosures and investing in public and cooperative affordable housing;
- Enact comprehensive financial regulations including eliminating offshore tax havens, taxing economic speculation, breaking up or nationalizing banks that are “too big to fail,” and reducing corporate influence in politics;
- Reform the tax system by restoring higher tax rates for the wealthy and corporations and passing the Robin Hood Tax on Wall Street transactions;
- Calls on regions and locals to:
- Educate our members and communities about income and wealth inequality and policies that can address it;
- Work with and join organizations promoting a just economy;
- Articulate bargaining goals within a broader economic framework that calls for greater equality;
- Encourages members to participate in local economic development initiatives to interject pro-worker perspectives into state and local government, such as Good Jobs First.