The tentative agreement between General Motors and the United Auto Workers union is a major victory for workers who were on strike for six weeks. The deal, which follows earlier agreements with Ford and Stellantis, includes significant pay raises, cost of living adjustments and improved benefits for the 18,000 UAW members at GM.
It ends what had to be a long six weeks for workers.
The agreement will have an impact beyond the UAW. First, it is a lasting reminder of the power and value of collective bargaining. This is what is at the heart of what makes labor unions successful, and seeing members boost total compensation by more than 30 percent is a landmark victory in a fight to close the wealth gap.
The recent union wins not only by the UAW, but the Writers Guild and the Teamsters are showing a new trend, when workers speak collectively, we all benefit.
Shawn Fain, the UAW President, called his union’s win a “historical inflection point” for organized labor because of a system that too often has seen organized labor “left behind by an economy that only works for the billionaire class.
We can’t forget the UAW’s hard fought victory because when unions win, middle class workers across the country win. They have more money in their pockets to spend on their families and in their local economies.
It’s no mystery that the distance between the extremely rich and the rest of the country is getting wider but we can look back and see that unions are the solution.
Consider: In 1971, 61 percent of Americans were part of the middle class, according to data from the Pew Research Center. In 2019, it was 51 percent.
In 1971, 27.4 percent of all Americans had union jobs, according to the Economic Policy Institute. In 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it was 11.6 percent.
But the pendulum is swinging. According to a Gallup poll U.S approval of labor unions is at 71%, which is the highest point it has been since 1965. Americans are realizing union workers are the backbone of this country and the middle class, and they want a piece of the billions of dollars in profits they create.
“Wall Street and the CEOs didn’t build this country,” President Biden has said. “The middle class did. And the middle class was built by unions.”
So, what are the answers?
If we want a strong and thriving middle class to return and to start closing the wealth gap, we need strong and thriving unions.
Organized labor is not asking for anything that they have not worked and fought hard for. When unions win campaigns for higher wages, it allows the taxpayer to stop subsidizing business that get away with underpaying workers, forcing them to use public assistance. When union membership grows, empowered workers can have a voice in their workplace, and can feed their families, pay their mortgages and raise their children in a stable environment.
If we want a better future for our children, we must support organized labor’s fight to make the world an equitable place for all.
Brandon Fishbaum, JD., is the Business Development and Ethics Manager for the Carpenter Contractor Trust.
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