Unions drive economy

BY DAN SILVERTHORN
Retired executive director West Central Illinois
Building and Construction Trades Council

Labor unions and the workers they represent helped secure the largest middle class in American history. It’s no coincidence that union membership is declining at the same time the middle class is disappearing.

Wage gains today are almost exclusively among the top 1 percent of earners. Wage inequality with those at the top and everyone else at the bottom creates an unhealthy, unbalanced society. It is also a stagnant society without the creativity that comes from diversity, differences and dialogue.

Bradley University art professor Paul Krainak wrote in the March issue of Community Word that loss of the factory floor means a loss for American creativity. People on the factory floor create an incubator for problem solving and innovation. Robots on the factory floor perpetuate the status quo – even in the face of a changing world and changing markets. Shipping production overseas further attenuates this channel of creativity.

The divide between labor and the top echelon at Caterpillar is now physical as well as hierarchical with the relocation of global headquarters. Cat leadership is now part of the Chicago corporate culture. Executives can easily be recruited and rotate among the Fortune 500 headquarters in Chicago, doing stints at Boeing, Archer Daniels Midland or Tenneco. It doesn’t matter if the company makes a DC-10, ethanol, automotive parts or deodorant soap. The relocation marks another separation between production and management.

The solution to America’s economic malaise is not segregating management from production and increasing income inequality.

Labor unions are the best tool for reversing income inequality, said gubernatorial candidate and state Sen. Daniel Biss during a campaign swing through Peoria.

He said Rauner is at war with unions and obsessed with an economy that cuts out working people. He said Rauner, who makes $188 million a year, claims the problem with the state’s economy is because a union worker laying tar in Illinois earns $43,000 a year compared with a non-union guy laying tar in Indiana earning $35,000 a year.

What does that indicate “if your life’s work is to tell people who have less than you do that they should have even less . . . .”

The research is clear. Economic vitality comes from unions regaining strength and fighting to increase wages and benefits for the middle class. It comes from increasing the minimum wage. What’s standing in the way? A governor whose mission is to destroy unions and reward the billionaire class. A billionaire president determined to destroy federal protections for the environment, workers and journalists.

Ending that stranglehold would be cause for celebration on Labor Day 2017.

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