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The Vital Role of Organized Labor

"What is so 'radical' about working people demanding to regain their middle-class status?" Macaray asks

"Fortunately, the apparatus for resistance is already in place," Macaray writes (Photo: AFSCME/Twitter)

Question:  What do the most “successful” countries in the world—i.e., the “happiest,” fairest, most enlightened, most optimistic, and most generous—have in common?  Answer:  The majority of them have quasi-socialist governments/economies, and highly unionized labor forces.

"The only foreseeable way for the vaunted American middle-class to make a comeback is by having the “average American worker” once again earn a livable wage and enjoy decent benefits."

Actually, there’s a third commonality as well.  Unlike the U.S., they are unburdened by the largest, most bloated and debilitating military budget in the history of mankind—an advantage that permits them to treat medical care as a “right” rather than a “privilege,” and to offer free college tuition to those who wish to attend, working off the premise that an educated electorate is an “investment,” not a “luxury.”

In the 2016 Democratic Primary, when Bernie Sanders advocated free college tuition, politicians not only ridiculed him, they practically laughed him off the podium.  They treated the concept of “not punishing” a poor person who wants to continue their education as an exercise in unchecked extravagance.

Yet, we didn’t hear so much as a peep from those same people when it came to the F-35 fighter plane. Not only is the F-35 prototype the most expensive weapons system in the history of mankind, which is a mouthful (the fleet’s estimated cost is upwards of $379 billion), but the damned thing doesn’t work.  That’s no exaggeration. After a decade of development, the F-35 is still deemed “not acceptable for combat.”

Just imagine what this country could have done with an extra $379 billion dollars if we’d decided not to develop this airplane. Because we’ve become inured to the word, we’ve forgotten how much a billion dollars is.  Consider:  If you gave a person a million dollars and told him to spend $1,000 per day, and come back after he spent it all, he’d return in 3 years.  If you gave him a billion dollars, and told him to spend $1,000 a day, he’d return in 3,000 years.

Maybe we use that extra $379 billion as a down-payment on single-payer health care?  Or for underwriting free college tuition?  Or for putting a sizable dent in those much needed repairs of our infrastructure (roads, bridges, dams, aqueducts, canals, ports, power plants, etc.)?  In any event, it would have been money well-spent.

Which brings us to labor unions.  The only foreseeable way for the vaunted American middle-class to make a comeback is by having the “average American worker” once again earn a livable wage and enjoy decent benefits.   And the only way that’s ever going to happen is by workers rising up and insisting on it. 

I realize that choice of idiom has the slightly nutty, early 20th century ring of proletarian idealism to it, but it also happens to be true.  Resistance is the only solution.  Resistance is the only way that working people are going to improve their circumstances.  It’s obvious that the “free market” won’t do it, the U.S. Congress won’t do it, and the Church and philanthropic organizations won’t do it.  It’s the workers themselves who must once again coalesce and assert themselves.  What is so “radical” about working people demanding to regain their middle-class status?

Fortunately, the apparatus for resistance is already in place.  The only thing that workers need to do is stand on their hind legs and utilize that apparatus.  Unions are legal.  Labor laws are on already the books.  The NLRB, wimpy as it is, already exists.  Everything is in place.

And if you’re looking for proof that Corporate America is scared shitless over the potential rise of organized labor, it is represented by fact that they will do anything in their power to keep unions out.  They are terrified of us. 

If Wall Street didn’t regard worker solidarity and collectivism as dangerous, they wouldn’t care.  They wouldn’t give a hoot about unions.  But they do care.  Which is why hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on those toxic “right-to-work” campaigns.  

Again:  The apparatus is already in place.       

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David Macaray

David Macaray

David Macaray, a former union rep, is a Los Angeles-based playwright and the author of It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor and Night Shift:  270 Factory Stories.” His latest book is “How to Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows:  Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About India But Were Afraid to Ask.” He can be reached at

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