The demise of union power correlates to middle-class woe

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On the same day that President Barack Obama was expected to focus the State of the Union Address on his recent discovery of the effects of the widening income gap, the Post-Gazette ran “A Guide to Why Wealth Gap Matters” (Jan. 28), an Associated Press article.

Unfortunately, like Mr. Obama and his pseudo-progressive loyalists, the article doesn’t mention the most important factor in the demise of the middle class. The reporters’ laundry list of forces destroying the American dream include all the usual suspects: globalization, overpaid executives, international job competition and that old saw “single-parent families.”

What’s the essential piece of the puzzle the article doesn’t mention? The dead or dying remnants of organized labor — the democratic movement that did more than any other to reverse the massive income inequality of the 1920s which ushered in the Great Depression.

Ever since the Clintons triangulated the working class and unions out of effective membership in the Democratic Party (even while grubbing for union campaign money with both hands) liberals have ignored or diminished the historic role of organized labor in reversing income inequality. Instead they pin their hopes on education reform, government programs and vague concepts like “expanding opportunity.”

Union contracts with good wages, vacation time and health care can obviously allow workers to provide better health, education and cultural opportunities for their children. Workers with fully funded pension plans, not looted by corporations, give their children a higher quality of life by relieving them of the burden of supporting them in retirement.

Historically, unions are the only institutions with the collective power and the commitment to building and maintaining the social safety net. A strong social safety net not only keeps workers out of poverty but also indirectly supports wages, benefits and workplace safety.

Look around, Pittsburgh, and ask yourself how many people in our vibrant professional community and solid middle class are there because their parents or grandparents were the beneficiaries of the unionization of the steel and the related industries that built this city.

Park Place

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