published Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

Reich: Union will lead to prosperity

Robert Reich

I strongly support Chattanooga's Volkswagen workers who are seeking to unionize in order to get better conditions and wages -- just like their counterparts in Germany.

The rights of workers to organize and work together for better wages, safer working conditions and improved benefits has been under consistent attack in the United States for decades. This war on workers' rights is an assault on the middle class and it is undermining the American economy.

While Wall Street is enjoying record profits, working families can't get back on their feet until American workers have more money in their pockets to buy what they produce. Unions are the only way to give them the bargaining power to get better pay.

From the 1950s through the 1970s -- the "Great Prosperity" of U.S. history -- wages rose with productivity. As the economic pie increased, many in the working class were able to achieve the proverbial American Dream and earned enough to buy what they produced -- thanks in no small part to the role of organized labor. In the 1950s, over a third of American workers in the private sector were unionized. Today, fewer than 7 percent are.

While corporate profits have consistently risen, unions are in decline -- and with them the wages of U.S. workers. More and more of the total income and wealth of America has gone to the very top. The corporate assault on organized labor has pushed more and more working families into poverty and created the greatest economic inequality since the Great Depression.

To reverse these pernicious trends, workers need the bargaining power that unions give them. This is why Chattanooga's Volkswagen workers need to unionize to get better conditions and wages, just like their counterparts in Germany.

German workers have pulled ahead while U.S. workers have slipped further behind. In sharp contrast to the last few decades of stagnant wages in America, average hourly pay has risen almost 30 percent in Germany since 1985. Germany has been investing substantially in education and infrastructure and its unemployment rate is 2 percent lower than ours.

German labor unions are not only powerful enough to insist that German workers get their fair share of the economy's gains, but they are actively organizing in solidarity on the global level to insist that workers in Chattanooga receive the same.

Organized labor in Germany is not alone in supporting Chattanooga's workers. Millions of people across the United States, including myself, are also lending their support because we know that a victory for Chattanooga's workers is a victory for the working people of America.

Workers need to be organized to be heard and they need widespread community support to ensure that their organizing efforts are successful. This is especially true in our current political climate, when right-wing ideologues and corporate front-groups are attacking unions.

I stand in solidarity with "Chattanooga for Workers," a community-labor partnership supporting the organizing effort at Volkswagen. And I want to extend my thanks to the majority of workers who have already signed cards to form a union at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant for your courage in taking a collective stand and working together to move our country forward.

Robert Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He also was secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, and Time Magazine named him one of the 10 most effective cabinet secretaries of the 20th century.

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