Last Monday was Labor Day, the holiday where we are supposed to celebrate American workers and their contributions to our society. Part of that should also include the essential role unions played in creating our strong economic system.
Last week we wrote about the role of unions in building our economy. This week, we want to look at what someone else said about this topic, Pope Francis.
The American Jesuit Review reports Pope Francis recently made supporting remarks about the importance of unions. He stated “Labor unions that protect and defend the dignity of work and the rights of workers continue to have an essential role in society, especially in promoting inclusion.” He added “There is no good society without a good union”
The article states the Pope went on to say “Labor unions must guard and protect workers, but also defend the rights of those ‘outside the walls,’ particularly those who are retired and the excluded who are also excluded from rights and democracy.” He added, “There is no justice together if it isn’t together with today’s excluded ones,”
He also pointed out work without respect for the person “becomes something inhuman.” That lack of respect is shown when companies move jobs to areas where workers are paid less, politicians act to reverse wage gains enacted in cities and communities, and right-wing politicians seek to enact “right-to-work” laws which will hurt workers.
It’s not often I get to quote Pope Francis and Jesuit publications, but his remarks about unions are very appreciated. (His Holiness should feel free to quote me anytime he chooses.)
The economic role of unions in building equality can be seen by looking at what has happened to our economy as union membership has declined. In a recent article, Newsweek points to the role unions played in building economic equality and the middle class. They cite a Harvard study which found:
- Reductions in union jobs account for 33 percent inequality among men, and 40 percent among women since the early 1970s.
- While losses cut across racial lines, black workers have been hardest hit. Since 1983, the percentage of black workers in a union has declined2 percent, compared to 43.6 percent for white workers. As a result, more than half of black working people make less than $15/hour.
Unions offered workers a path to the middle class, better working conditions, access to health care and other benefits, and collective political power. Not only did union members receive these benefits, but employees of nearby non-organized companies also received higher wages and better conditions in order to keep those companies competitive for the workforce. The article states union and nonunion workers fighting for minimum wage increases have won raises for another 20 million workers, and set 10 million on the road to a living wage.
The role of unions in helping shape our society is undeniable, and their importance in securing economic growth and fairness remains today.