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Why So Few of Us Have a Good Job

An amazon worker holds a sign calling for co-workers to vote yes to a union. Unions make good jobs.

A good job is obviously one that brings you a sense of fulfillment while carrying it out.  Since you are going to spend so much time there, more than you will with your loved ones, than this is a pretty important requirement.  Other equally important characteristics of a good job are livable wages, quality health care, and a good retirement program.  This means a wage that permits you to have a roof over your head, place food on the table, pay all your necessities, and have enough left over to save for a rainy day and enjoy some of the fun in life every once in a while.  Good health care is an easy part of the definition for anyone who has suffered, or had family members suffer, serious health problems.  You shouldn’t confuse quality health care with health insurance.  These two things are not the same thing.  In fact, there is a saying in this capitalist country that health insurance is only good until you get really sick.  Good health care would be the type of health care people have in socialist Cuba.  First in quality and last in cost e.g. free of charge.  Since the profit oriented health care system in operation within the U.S. is the farthest thing from what exists in Cuba today, having health insurance that covers as much of your health needs as possible is the closest thing that exists to quality health care in this society.  Health costs here are so expensive that you are clearly much better off with insurance than without it.  So, our definition of a good job in this society includes having health insurance.  Lastly, a good retirement program that is set up to give you options to put money aside for the day when you no longer want to, or have the capacity to, work. 

These are our definitions for a good job.  Quality wages.  Quality health care.  And, a quality retirement program.  I didn’t include the fulfillment piece for this part because there are multitudes of studies that confirm that if workers are provided the three definitions I’m giving here, the path to fulfillment is much easier to achieve.  Typically this is going to be true if the worker is less likely to be burdened with the fear of not being able to pay bills, help a family member who is sick, or deal with having to work when the mind, body, or both, no longer has capacity to cooperate.  These are the definitions.  And, I’ll bet that the chances are absolutely outstanding that you cannot name five people you know under the age of 40 who have jobs like this. Why? 

A clue to the answer is that Walmart is the number one employer in the world today and within the U.S., ran by the Walton family. The number two employer is Koch Industries, ran by Charles and David Koch.  What the criminally thug Walton and Koch families are doing is presenting a widely accepted model of labor where jobs have become defined based on different criteria than what I’ve provided here.  Today, the typical job is less than 40 hours, which means its practically impossible to quality for health insurance the way the requirements are usually set up.  Wages are as low as they can be kept.  And, safety at the job is no longer a priority.  Retirement programs are so rare that most workers under 40 would have a hard time even defining what a 401k or pension plan is.  The worker is prevented from having the resources to fight for better work conditions – called collective bargaining – and most states are “at will” employers meaning they can terminate you without even giving you a reason, the exact opposite of collective bargaining, which has just cause, a process where employers have to demonstrate a reason for terminating you.

Just cause and collective bargaining are components of belonging to a labor union.  So, its no accident that you can easily see a direct correlation between the reduction in quality jobs as defined above and the reduction of people who are unionized.  In fact, 26 of the 24 states in the U.S. no longer have collective bargaining as a mandatory process.  These states are dishonestly labeled as “right to work” states, as if people would have chosen minimum wage, no benefit, no retirement programs, if they had understood how to act in a way that wasn’t against their interest when they voted in “right to work.”  You see, in the U.S., you are “free” to screw yourself in favor of multi-national corporations.  In this country, someone can sell you open air for 5 million dollars and if you agree to it, even if your ability to make a clear decision is questionable, unless there are obvious issues, that’s considered good business.  That’s capitalism for you.

Those 26 non-collective bargaining states have also permitted corporations to contract out jobs to other countries, a practice that has severe restrictions in work environments where a labor contract is in operation.  This is why it would be hysterical if it wasn’t so pitiful that so many people seem to really believe that a clown like Donald Trump can create jobs for them.  He’s directly benefited from pushing workers down.  He has a long history of endorsing those same tactics in his own businesses, but people in the U.S. are driven by emotion and ego, not science and research.  And just so you don’t confuse this site for one that suggests Hillary is any better, understand that we got collective bargaining from organizing, not from the demopublican party.  They represent the establishment that is holding workers hostage today. 

Finally, its worth mentioning that even a bad union is better than no union at all.  If this wasn’t true, how do you explain that workers who work in the 24 collective bargaining states make more, have better health benefits, better retirement, and safer work conditions than any workers who do comparable work in the 26 non-collective bargaining states.  The corporate propaganda is that if you had a bad experience with a union that is justification to categorically reject unions forever.  This logic is absurd and in no other area of your life do you function that way.  You have a bad relationship so you become a monk after that or do you keep working to create a better relationship?  You have a bad experience at a church you belonged to so you denounce your religion or you keep working for a better manifestation of your faith?  You eat something you don’t like so you starve yourself until death?

Workers in the U.S. are being fed a scam.  The capitalists use your ignorance and fear of people different than you to create a racist opposition to immigrants of color, the very same trick they used against White workers when slavery was ended.  During that time, the newly “freed” Africans were no threat of the wages and stability of White workers any more than immigrant labor is a threat to your terrible job today.  Someone from Mexico isn’t taking your job in the U.S.  That job was shipped to Mexico and the person working your job down there is getting nothing compared to how your job used to be when you had it.  In fact, that person is doing worse than you are doing in your terrible job because the winner in this system isn’t one worker over another.  Its the Waltons, Kochs, and all the other capitalists and their supporters. 

People in this country have to start waking up to these obvious facts before we reach a point of no return.  Union density had been reduced from almost 40% of the workplace in the 70s to barely 10% now. with almost all of that density being held in public sector jobs (meaning a very small percentage of private sector jobs have collective bargaining).  This explains the constant effort to privatize every job in the public sector to further the erosion of public services.  Services like the job my father held for decades for the U.S. Post Office.  A job which permitted him to save some coins so that his hardheaded son could attend college, something he never had an option to do.  That permitted me to benefit and pay for my own advanced degree education and send my daughter to college.  At least I learned how to read which permitted me to become a critical thinker (with the help of the All African People’s Revolutionary Party‘s work study process) which has made me the organizer I’m proud to be today.  These are all examples of how people can make some progress economically people.  You can listen to the fools tell you that collective bargaining holds you back all you want.  They are telling you that if your wages are bargained collectively, you may have to settle for a wage that you could have negotiated higher based on your own individual skills.  This is nonsense and you know that because every job you have ever had that wasn’t unionized permitted you the option of negotiating your wage.  What stopped you?  And if you ever tried that and requested something higher than the employer was willing to pay you, how did that work out for you with that job?

I’m not interested in be exploited for the super rich any more than I am right now.  They are currently looting the entire world and they even have many working class people (primarily white) shilling for them under the lie that they will make their lives better.  When you can find one time a millionaire, whether democrat or republican, made the lives of you and the people in your community better, you be sure to let me know.  I’ll wait.  Your life gets better only when you decide to get with other people and make things better.  And that has to mean some type of confrontation with the powers that be who control all the cards.  To win, requires organization.  Period.  Anyone telling you any differently is selling you a bag of human waste.


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Ahjamu Umi is revolutionary organizer with the All African People's Revolutionary Party, adviser, and liberation literature author.

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