This weekend we are celebrating Labor Day, the one day a year we recognize the contributions of labor.
Until recently, workers took their benefits - the eight-hour day, good pay, unemployment insurance, Social Security, paid vacation and holidays - for granted. Corporations did not bestow these benefits upon workers out of generosity. Instead workers fought long and hard - and many gave their lives - to secure these benefits for all of us.
The key to these victories was the workers' realization that they needed to be unionized to have any chance when negotiating with their employer.
How are workers faring today? Despite record corporate profits, workers are now faced with downsizing, longer hours, forced overtime, and jobs being moved out of the country. For most, wages have not kept pace with inflation. In fact, median income fell for five consecutive years between 2007 and 2012 and was at the lowest level, adjusting for inflation, since 1995. Moreover, the inequality in the U.S. continues to widen.
When I was growing up, the American dream was that if you were willing to work hard, you could have a decent life. Today, this dream has turned into a nightmare for many. Far too many of us work hard and are unable to escape poverty, even with two people working. Life is especially brutal for single-parent households headed by a female. Incredibly, over 22 percent of our children now grow up in poverty, hardly the American dream.
Unfortunately, under current policies, inequality is likely to grow worse. A major part of the problem is that the wealthy and powerful exercise undue influence over our political process. This influence has resulted in policies, particularly tax and trade policies, that, unsurprisingly, primarily benefit the wealthy.
Besides governmental policies that increase inequality, workers have also been harmed by the effects of automation and of 'trade' agreements that allow jobs to be shipped to other countries. Most of these 'trade' agreements focus on extending corporate rights at the expense of the democracy and of the public interest. Employers also use the threat of shifting jobs elsewhere to extract concessions from workers and unions.
President Obama is supporting another disastrous 'trade' agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. However, he needs a special authorization from Congress, Trade Promotion Authority, to pass the TPP. Please support democracy and let U.S. Representative Jared Polis, D-Boulder, know of your opposition to trade promotion authority (aka, fast track).
The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center's "Peace Train" column runs every Friday in the Colorado Daily.