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What Has Happened To The Middle Class?

There was a time in this country – not that long ago – when almost one-third of all workers belonged to a union.  More than three-quarters of Americans supported labor unions.  And two-thirds of American families had a place in the “middle class.”

But not today.

Today, less than 12% of U.S. workers are members of a union, and public approval of unions is at a record low.

Today, our “middle class” has fallen apart so completely… that no one even knows what it is, anymore.

And America’s economy is uncharted territory: income inequality is at an all-time high.

What happened?

Today, as we mark the first anniversary of the Occupy movement, we also need to take stock of new economic and political realities facing the Labor movement.

Why happened to America’s support for unions?  Have people already forgotten that workers died in the fight for fair wages?  That the families were torn apart – and children’s innocence sacrificed – in the fight for 40-hour workweeks?

So many workplace rights and benefits are taken for granted these days.  Have we forgotten the price that was paid by the union members who fought to win those rights?

Minimum wage, overtime, lunch breaks, sick leave, workplace safety.  None of these rights were given to employees.  All of our workplace rights had to be fought for and won – one by one – and most of these rights were paid for in workers’ blood.

Does America remember that?

Not today.

We must work together to take back our workplaces and our political system.  We need to change the minds of people who have made unions into scapegoats.  We must organize and grow our organizations. We must fight back against the corporate greed (and money) that has destroyed our state legislatures and Congress.   We need to STOP the “race to the bottom” where everyone is losing wages and benefits.

This will not be an easy task, but we are union members, right? We are not afraid to stand up for what is right. We have never been afraid of hard work. We have our entire nation at stake.

We already have some victories.  In Ohio, we helped to gather 1.2 million signatures to overturn SB 5 – and on voting day Ohio repealed SB5 by an overwhelming 61%.  In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker tried to steal away bargaining rights – and the country noticed – and now a judge has ruled Walker’s law unconstitutional.   Last year, hundreds of thousands of people came together at Occupy events, screaming “we are the 99%” and protesting for economic justice.

Are we winning the fight? When the fight is over, we will know who won.

Are we making progress? Absolutely!

Only together can we fight back against the attacks on labor.  Together we can make America the country it used to be – and what we want it be again.

Watch Father Cletus Kiley address the National Building and Construction Trades conference here.

Then, we hit the streets.  See how you can get involved.




About Matt Murray

Matt Murray is the creator and an author on the NH Labor News. He is a union member and advocate for labor and progressive politics. He also works with other unions and members to help spread our message. Follow him on Twitter @NHLabor_News
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