Post WWII workers were the backbone of what was then a new American age of prosperity. Wages were comparable with the cost of living; this combined with a strong GI Bill for returning veterans created a strong, secure nation. The American workforce was educated, and well-paid. Families could afford to buy housing, and our educated workforce drove technological innovations which still place the United States as one of the most innovative and productive nations in the world.
We tend to forget that until the advent of strong union representation, American workers had no protection from unscrupulous business owners. The Great Depression was a time of unchecked corporate power, a time when private contractors were hired to beat and kill union organizers, a time when maiming and death were common industrial occurrences. It was the spirit of egalitarianism inspired by adversity, and an increasingly educated workforce that spurred the solidarity needed to stand firm against corporate power. Once unions were allowed to organize, no longer could an employer use human beings as disposable chattel to be discarded once they were worn or broken. People could be assured of a living wage, of health care, and of the opportunity promised by our Founders.
We once again face many of the same things we faced at the advent of the Great Depression. Once again corporate power is unchecked in the name of profit; lending institutions ply vulnerable customers with loans they no longer earn enough to repay and foreclosures are rife. Once again many employees struggle to survive on a minimum wage which is below the federal poverty level, and families are thrust onto the streets. The new union busters are corporations which place profits above national security. Wal-Mart, in the chase for profit has banned all union organizing in its shops, and many of its employees are also food stamp recipients. The taxpayers are subsidizing Wal-Mart’s employees because the company refuses to act responsibly toward its workers.
The ability to unionize, organize, and demand corporate accountability is a public good that we must not lose. Half a century of prosperity has lulled us into forgetting the struggles of those who laid their lives on the line so we could live a good life. When workers have to go the emergency room because it is the only way they can get treatment, when working parents have to depend on food stamps to survive, when corporate greed has caused recession, it is our national security which suffers. It is all of us who must bear the burden and just a few of us who profit. The ability of workers to freely organize, and the willingness of all of us to support American workers and demand corporate accountability is a step toward a stronger America. Please join me in supporting our unions and workers.
Oregon State University
Department of Anthropology
CGE thanks Adele for allowing us to print this piece.