Op-ed: Working class still under attack

“My sweat and my wages they don’t seem to weigh out, I’m gettin’ more aches than I’m gainin’ in gold.” — “Hard Times” by Tyler Childers


Every Labor Day, without fail, there is no shortage of hypocrites and charlatans offering wishes of a happy holiday and pledging fealty to the working people of America, even as they vote to degrade and dismantle the working class. Republican officeholders who have passed right-to-work laws and repeal of prevailing wage laws and who constantly disparage organized labor and collective bargaining rights as extremist plots just love to share pictures by the barbecue to their social media with smiles on their elitist faces.

Union members have brought to all of the workforce they possibly can (the struggle continues) all of the following: the 8-hour workday, the 40-hour work week, weekends, child labor laws, overtime pay, holiday pay, paid sick leave, paid parental/family leave, workplace safety and accommodation laws, the minimum wage, guaranteed pensions (though these are almost unheard of now) and much more. None of this was the result of corporate or industry benevolence.

A recent report from the Institute for Policy Studies found that the CEOs of the largest 100 companies paying the lowest wages among the Fortune 500 made an average of $601 for every $1 earned by their average worker in 2022. These companies paid workers, including workers outside the U.S. and part-time workers, a median wage of just $31,672 last year, while their CEOs received an average of $15.3 million. 90 of these companies conducted stock buybacks to raise their share prices, spending a collective $341.2 billion on their own shares from January 2020 to May 2023.

It would be dishonest to blame only the political right and their preferred business entities, though. As Starbucks employees at locations across the country have voted to unionize, the company has been on a union-busting crusade. To quote from a piece in The Guardian by Steven Greenhouse, “The regional offices of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) have brought 100 separate cases against Starbucks–an extraordinarily high number–which together allege more than 1,000 illegal actions, many of them in retaliation against workers for unionizing: from closing stores because they had unionized to reducing workers’ hours after their stores unionized. The NLRB has also filed an unusual nationwide complaint accusing Starbucks of refusing to bargain at 163 unionized stores across 28 states.” Not one unionized Starbucks has achieved an agreed contract to date.

Legislation that would make crucial reforms to labor law, protecting workers’ rights to organize and guaranteeing contracts are reached in a timely manner, has been pending in Congress now for years. It’s called the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act. U.S. Senate Republicans have killed this legislation with the filibuster and Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-WV), who says he supports the act, along with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), have allowed them to do so. Why would any self-respecting union member ever vote Republican or for any Democrat or third-party member who would fail to protect their organizing and bargaining rights?

Another area where Republicans, and far too many Democrats, fail when it comes to American labor is in education policy and the teaching of labor history. How many graduates of West Virginia’s high schools or even colleges and universities, for example, can recount and explain the details of the events of the Battle of Blair Mountain or the West Virginia Mine Wars more broadly? It is a major disservice to deprive schoolchildren from about the middle school level onward of lessons surrounding the history of organized labor and the blood shed and lives lost to wrest power from the hands of capital so that labor can be at least somewhat safe and prosperous.

Powerful forces with inexhaustible financial assets to spend on lobbying largesse and campaign finance don’t want to see the PRO Act passed or labor history accurately and completely taught. This goes hand-in-hand with why these same forces and their puppets (in the Republican Party especially) don’t want complete and accurate Black or Indigenous or LGBTQ+ history taught and why they don’t want legislation passed to right systemic and institutional wrongs this history has wrought. It’s all a threat to the existing power structure.

True class solidarity is also racial/ethnic solidarity; it’s sex and gender solidarity; it’s solidarity with those who suffer with disabilities, people of all ages, people of all faiths and no faith at all; it’s solidarity with climate and environmental movements, immigrants (documented and not), those victimized by the criminal justice system and those seeking reproductive healthcare, including abortion. Anything short of this is not true solidarity.

I hope you’ll keep an eye out on future Labor Days for the hypocrites and charlatans. United we bargain, divided we beg.


Eric Engle is a local union steward.

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