The Case For Sectoral Bargaining Is Now Stronger Than Ever

Thursday, May 21, 2020
By Hamilton Nolan, In These Times

We are living through the economic equivalent of emergency medicine. Right now, we are focused on leaders trying (often ineptly) to triage the immediate consequences of our economic crisis. Most of us are just thinking about staying employed. But there is deeper trouble on the horizon—the future of wages. We need to talk about how we’re going to prevent the paychecks of workers from getting crushed for years even after the pandemic is over.Tens of millions of working people are newly unemployed. A large portion of the jobs they left will not come back. Hundreds of thousands of businesses will close as a result of the pandemic and its associated lockdown and the failure of our government to extend a proper lifeline. Ideally, the federal government would get workers and employers to the other side of this in one piece with a competent rescue package, but that is almost certainly not going to happen. Not even the Democrats have proposed measures that would be adequate to prevent a massive, long-lived crisis for working people. So let’s turn the discussion, for a moment, to what must be done to ensure that the aftermath of this does not reinforce all of the most devastating economic trends of the past 40 years: stagnant wages for working people, capture of great wealth by the very richest people, and inequality that, incredibly, keeps getting worse.

Economists say that what’s happening now will severely depress wages in coming years. Unemployment will remain high, along with desperation, and chunks of jobs will simply disappear, and companies will be all too happy to take advantage of that in order to hire at lower wages and resist wage increases for the workers they have. The layoffs that have already happened have disproportionately hit low-income workers—the group with the least ability to fight back against cutthroat employers that want to force them into future positions that will earn them even less. There will be fewer bad jobs, and the bad jobs will be worse, and companies will luxuriate in the large pool of unemployed people in order to lean into a “take it or leave it” attitude for lower pay. They will cut labor costs at the bottom, because they can, and funnel those savings to the bottom line. That will happen, because that is our system. So, if we care about working people, what do we do about that?

The core of the problem is that workers need more bargaining power, to prevent their bosses from pushing their wages down. That power comes from organized labor and collective bargaining. The revival and growth of unions in America is the long-term solution to the big capitalist mechanism that has kept wealth inequality growing for four decades.

Read the full story from In These Times

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