Mar 9, 2014
Why Are Wages Low? Blame Workers for Not Knowing They Are, in Fact, Workers
Posted on Dec 31, 2013
There are a lot of reasons for the decline of the American middle class, and a lot of blame to be doled out to everything from corporate greed to globalization. But part of the damage has been self-inflicted by workers themselves—by not recognizing that they are, in fact, workers, even if they have college educations and white-collar jobs.
And if you don’t see yourself as a worker, you’re not likely to think of yourself as someone who could benefit from a union.
Author and journalist Edward McClelland explores that conundrum over at Salon in a piece that builds on some of the points he made in his book, “Nothin’ But Blue Skies: The Heyday, Hard Times and Hopes of America’s Industrial Heartland” (which I reviewed for the Los Angeles Times when it came out). In the piece, McClelland starts with the story of a young Rob Stanley who, after graduating from high school in 1965, went to work in a steel factory shoveling ore into a blast furnace for $2.32 an hour, or about $17.17 an hour today.
That job is long gone, along with millions of other blue-collar jobs. In its place: low-wage white-collar jobs or service-sector jobs. Some, like working in fast-food kitchens, take more training and skills than Stanley needed to shovel ore, McClelland argues. Along with that transition came the evisceration of the private-sector unions, which is a key factor in the growing income divide between the wealthy and the working poor. As is the self-perception of today’s workers as middle class, when in fact their wages are far from it. From the article:
McClelland argues that the anti-union movement has had its greatest victory not in busting labor collectives in traditional industries such as steel and cars, because those jobs crumbled under the force of automation and outsourcing. The victory has come in keeping unions out of the white-collar and service-sector jobs that have replaced the old blue-collar jobs. And that has happened not because of great pay, benefits and working conditions, but because the workers don’t see themselves as, well, workers.
But how do you get people to understand that and start working together for their common good? That’s the challenge facing the union movement, and the hurdle to some semblance of economic justice.
—Posted by Scott Martelle.
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