Summary: We take the growth of a prosperous middle class as the just due of Americans. In fact generations of union activism played the largest role in creating it, it existed for only a few generations, and now dies. On this Labor Day let’s revisit the lost history of the union movement, and consider lessons we can learn from it.
“To remember the loneliness, the fear and the insecurity of men who once had to walk alone in huge factories, beside huge machines. To realize that labor unions have meant new dignity and pride to millions of our countrymen. To be able to see what larger pay checks mean, not to a man as an employee, but as a husband and as a father. To know these things is to understand what American labor means.”
— Adlai Stevenson’s speech to the American Federation of Labor in NYC on 22 Sept. 1952.
- The rise and Fall of America’s Middle Class.
- Throwing away what as gained over 150 years.
- For More Information.
- A note from our past.
(1) Rise & Fall of America’s Middle Class
Since 1990 wages are falling as a share of Gross Domestic Income (GDI); profits are rising. The reasons are complex, the result has by now become unmistakable: a shift of our national income from return on labor to return on capital. Since the nation’s wealth is so highly concentrated, the result is rising inequality of income.
Wages as a share of Gross Domestic Income: down and falling. The actual picture for workers is far worse than this, since these “wages” includes the vast sums paid to senior corporate managers — sums beyond anything seen until 1980s.
Profits as a share of Gross Domestic Income: the long drop reversed, like so many things, during the 1980s. Since then it’s been a holiday for plutocrats.