Workers vote with their feet to secure their value
Over the past two years, American workers have been urged to radically change their lifestyles in the name of public health.
Businesses have closed and restrictions on shelter-in-place have been imposed, putting our economy in a coma. More than 800,000 Americans have died from illnesses linked to COVID-19. For countless Americans, staying home meant accepting the burden of financial insecurity. The highest paid workers had more options to work from home, options not possible for economically vulnerable Americans.
As working class families watched the inequality gap widen, the Treasury moved quickly to bring economic relief. Three rounds of stimulus checks have become the gauze used to slow the financial bleeding for many. Never having intended to fight against increasing inequalities and probably not to regenerate many workers, these injections of money have penetrated our money supply, creating fears of inflation. The inflationary hawks, already in flight, are ready to nibble at the fruit at hand: programs benefiting the working class. And why wouldn’t they do it? The majority of the working class lacks bargaining power. Targeting mega-tycoons and donor darlings takes courage. Political benefactors buy bargaining power through lucrative obscene contributions. The flood of memes blaming “Brandon” for inflated gas prices resonates with the uninformed, neglecting the opulence of executive pay.
Today, the average CEO earns 351 times more than the average worker. For five decades, inflationary forest fires of economic disparity have burned unnoticed and undisturbed. A 2021 report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition found that full-time minimum wage workers cannot afford rent anywhere in America. The report sets the minimum hourly wage needed to pay rent at $ 24.90 an hour, while the DC mansion of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has 25 bathrooms. Without intervention, corporate amorality will systematically value profits over people. The Biden administration has presented an aggressive agenda with two basic proposals: The first strengthens our dilapidated infrastructure while creating well-paying union jobs. It received bipartisan support, and was enacted, a $ 1.2 trillion investment to ensure America’s economic competitiveness in the 21st century.
The second prioritizes investing in our social infrastructure, boldly providing universal pre-K, expanding home care for the elderly, improving access to health care, lowering the price of medicines on ordinance, offering generous tax incentives for renewable energy and a continuation of the child tax credit, among other benefits.
Dealt with a potential death blow, President Biden’s Build Back Better plan was blocked in the Senate after Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, refused his crucial support, citing muted concerns about inflation and debt. Maintaining the child tax credit, which has lapsed, would provide parents with an economic lifeline that has already helped tackle child poverty, reducing it by more than 40% over the life of the program. A sidelined working class lacks the negotiating power to shift focus from inflationary concerns to Trump-era tax policies that granted leniency to lavishness.
Dynamic and healthy economies, like ecosystems, rely on elements of interdependence in order to thrive. Working poor, some forced to choose between a job that barely covers childcare costs or leaving the workforce to stay at home with young children or aging parents, voice their frustrations.
The “Great Resignation” metastasized into an unofficial “general strike” of American workers in 2021. Initially misunderstood, the departures do not concern lazy workers. These are workers demanding collective equity, decent wages, better working conditions and more mobility.
Workers, tired of being exploited and of an apparent inability to move forward, must recognize this generational opportunity to transform a disorganized claim for dignity into an organized claim for collective bargaining.
Be fed up? Join a union. Holding hands to demand dignity is confused with begging. However, reaching out collectively, in the demand to be valued, unquestionably creates the power to negotiate. Unite, organize and fight for a fairer future.
John O’Brien, MPA, is a firefighter and union organizer in South Florida.