Politicians who target public employees use jargon like “budget crisis,” “job creation” and “shared sacrifice” to justify their policies to the public. Their real agenda was exposed however – a massive, well-funded campaign to silence the political voice of working men and women. What better way to push through economic policies that reward big donors and special interests who were so critical to their election victories?
Workers’ rights have been under attack because politicans like Scott Walker, Chris Christie and John Kasich know that organized labor is instrumental in addressing core economic concerns, such as income inequality, and giving working Americans a strong political voice against powerful corporate interests. It is this role, according to a new policy brief by the Center for American Progress, that makes labor unions in the United States so vital to the middle class.
David Madland and Nick Bunker, the authors of the report, “Unions Make Democracy Work for the Middle Class,” dig deep into existing economic data and voter participation patterns and conclude that, not only are unions at the forefront in advocating for middle class economic security, they are instrumental in providing mechanisms for average voters to participate effectively in politics, especially during critical campaign cycles. And that’s not all.
“States with a greater percentage of union members,” Madland and Bunker explain,“ have significantly higher voter turnout rates, as well as higher minimum wages, a greater percentage of residents covered by health insurance, stronger social safety nets, and a more progressive tax code.”
That is why it is critical for all middle class Americans to recognize how labor groups fight for their economic interests. And on that issue, the evidence is clear.
The CAP report cites Census Bureau data illustrating how the very wealthiest have secured the lion’s share of the economic prosperity over the past few decades, shrinking the ranks of the middle class. States that have lower percentage of union membership – including North Carolina, Georgia, and Arkansas – have relatively weak middle classes. In these states, the share of income going to working Americans is below the national average.
With more Americans across the political spectrum now calling for tax fairness, the report calls attention to the clear correlation between a progressive tax rate and strong unions.
“A tax system is more likely to raise more money from the rich, instead of the middle class, where unions are stronger.”
This strength also extends to political engagement. The quality of American democracy depends on an active and engaged citizenry. It’s not about merely giving voice or getting involved, however – ordinary middle class Americans need to know that they can influence lawmakers and the shape of legislation.
Unions’ expertise and resources help mobilize all citizens, including non-union members, and serve as a counterweight to powerful interest groups who seek primarily protect the economic interests of corporations and the wealthiest individuals.
Because more affluent Americans are much more likely to be active in politics than the middle class, say Madland and Bunker, preventing average voters from feeling too cynical or detached from the system is critical.
“As an increasing number of citizens feel their democracy is no longer responsive to their needs, the role unions play is ever more important.”