Monday, January 23, 2006

Squeezing the Work Force

Squeezing the Work Force
remaking unions in the workers' image
by Charles Sullivan

More than fifty years ago two of the most powerful labor unions—the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Workers—merged into one. Since that time union membership has steadily declined. In 1953, thirty-six percent of private-sector workers belonged to unions; today that percentage has dwindled to less than eight percent. Most American workers are now classified as ‘at will’ employees who have no protection against their employers. At will employees can be terminated at any time at the discretion of their employer, for no reason at all, with virtually no recourse to the legal system for redress of their grievances. This is an intolerable situation that exposes workers to widespread abuse by their employers.

Now view the situation against the larger economic back drop in which inflation has outpaced salaries for the first time in fourteen years. This in effect equates to lower wages for working people. The result is erosion in the living standard of working class people across the board. During this same period of time the economy has expanded at a four percent rate.

Meanwhile, corporate profits are soaring to record levels because management has squeezed significantly more production from the workers, without raising their wages. In addition, businesses—even the most profitable among them—are paying fewer benefits to their employees, thereby placing yet another financial hardship upon them. As evidence of this, pay rose only 2.4 percent in 2004, while benefit costs jumped seven percent. The result is less income in the pockets of the workers, and more money into the bank accounts of the employers.

It is clearly a big bonanza for business whenever workers increase productivity, without a corresponding increase in wages, with the result that wages are no longer keeping pace with inflation. Furthermore, this is occurring as CEO salaries rise astronomically and exponentially. Thus the fat cats on Wall Street are reaping enormous profits, as always, on the backs of the workers who produce the wealth. In effect, the work force is being raped by their employers, and only a small percentage of them have union representation.


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