November 14, 2013
By Carol Driscoll
In America today this question is insisting: at a time of record profits, why are so few jobs being created by the so-called “job creators”? Many progressive politicians are calling on our federal government to do more to get people working by bringing back manufacturing jobs. In previous decades, unions in the building trades, the auto industry, steel, mining, and more, negotiated—and, when needed, struck—for good wages with steady increases, in addition to health benefits and pensions.
Their achievements made for a security that was new. Union families were able to buy homes, send their children to college, and greatly expanded America’s middle class. Today, as we all know, unions are being brutally attacked, with states taking away collective bargaining rights, pensions, and benefits. Hardly anyone can be sure they’ll have a job next month, let alone next year.
Calling unemployment a “national crisis,” the AFL-CIO, America’s largest labor organization, writes about the dismal job outlook: Years into the recession, millions of America’s workers remain unemployed or underemployed, even as U.S. corporations are sitting on trillions of dollars in cash, refusing to create jobs. The share of unemployed workers who have been jobless for more than six months shot up from 17.6 percent in the first half of 2007 to more than 45.6 percent by spring 2010, and it remains near that percentage today.
Friends of Labor fervently believe the answer to why so few jobs have been created was given with clear logic by Eli Siegel, founder of the philosophy Aesthetic Realism. He asked this crucial question: “What does a person deserve by being a person?” It follows that if a person, a worker, does get what he or she deserves, then that cuts into profits. In a commentary published in The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, Ellen Reiss, Chairman of Education, explains:
Every one of the checks on profit economics [mostly brought about by unions] was a check on bosses’ and stockholders’ freedom to pocket the wealth that workers produced. After all, as Mr. Siegel put it, it’s mathematical: each penny that people’s labor brings in, beyond the money needed to have production continue, will go either to those whose work creates the wealth or to owners who don’t work for it. Every curb on the profit system’s injustice—from mandated ventilation to an employer-paid pension plan negotiated by a union—interfered with the profit system itself. It was money used in behalf of what workers deserve, and thus cut in on how much profit could go to persons who did not do the work….
That’s why there has been such a fierce effort these decades to do away with unions in America, and why so many companies are having their work done overseas by “cheap” labor. I said this some years ago, based on what I learned from Eli Siegel—the present difficulty of unions is really a sign of their strength: by the 1970s, unions were able to accomplish so much, get such a better life for American workers, that employers have found themselves unable to come away with the profits they desired. Unions, making work more ethical, have weakened a way of economics based on bad ethics. Seeing this fact should bring pride and encouragement to the American labor movement.
As a person who had the good fortune for more than 20 years to work for unions, and retired with a good pension from I.B.T. Local 1205 on Long Island, I’m forever indebted to the union movement for enabling my husband and myself to have a secure retirement. I firmly believe that when the jobs of America are owned by the people doing the work, and the profits are coming to them—not to some shareholder—we’ll have a thriving, ethical economy in which everyone benefits.