“a statement that conveys only part of the truth, especially one used deliberately in order to deceive someone.”
There are quite a few half truths out there that anger me. Here’s one that’s in the news lately. We hear that wages are low and the wealth gap is widening because we’ve lost the manufacturing jobs that once supported the middle class. That’s half true. While we lost a lot of manufacturing jobs, what we really lost were jobs that were protected by labor unions. We lost union jobs. When was the last time you heard anyone in the news or anyone running for office say out loud that we need to bring back labor unions to help support America’s working families? I can’t recall hearing it at all with one exception. Don Berwick mentioned bringing back union jobs in his convention speech. That was it.
We hear that we need to increase the skill level of America’s workers and that will be the panacea for all that ails our work force. Nonsense. Skilled workers can be exploited just as easily as unskilled workers if they can’t bargain collectively . All one needs to do is visit China where large numbers of skilled workers assemble highly technical electronic devices, working long hours and living in dormitories. Here we have skilled manufacturing jobs and low wages. What’s missing? Unions. The notion that we need to increase the skill level of America’s work force has resulted in so many of us spending more time and money trying to gain an edge over other laborers by getting that one special skill, that golden ticket that will propel us into the comfortable middle class. The middle class is still shrinking and it’s not because we are losing manufacturing jobs and it’s not because we’re losing skills.
In 1970, the average inflation adjusted income of general practitioners was $185,000. In 2010 it was $161,000 despite a near doubling of the number of patients that doctors see today. Should we tell these doctors that if only they increased their skill set, they would see a rise in wages? In a way, we do and that explains why we are losing general practitioners as many turn to higher paying specialties just to break even with their wage loss. Of course this has led to other problems with our health care, making it less effective and more costly.
In 1973, I graduated from high school and got a job at a local factory where, adjusted for inflation, I made about $45,000 a year. I was at the bottom of the pay scale, an assembly line parts supplier where other workers assembled copy machines. We were union workers at Xerox. Across town at Kodak, they were non-union but their pay was close to ours and that’s what happens when there are union workers in an area, all labor wages go up. All wages go up, even managerial positions at the same facilities and even doctor salaries in the same town.
I know it’s not that simple and there are other factors to consider, but I know that union jobs and union membership is a far better panacea for health care, women’s wage gap, family leave, education, and so much more.
So please, the next time you hear that we need manufacturing or skill sets or “job creators” to being back the middle class, know that what we really need are worker’s unions and the jobs that go with them.