On the first May Day celebration 130 years ago, tens of thousands of workers went on strike to protest long working hours, unjust wages and poor working conditions. Over the next decades, the labor movement grew stronger and won important victories such as the eight-hour work day, the end to child labor and the right to organize unions. It was this militant labor movement that was independent of the two political parties and used strikes, sit-ins and protests to build worker power, in tandem with movements such as the populists, progressives and the Bonus Marchers – who occupied Washington, DC in the summer of FDR’s election – that drove Roosevelt’s New Deal during the Great Depression, which created jobs, public works and a social safety net.
Today, while most people in the United States are still suffering from the economic collapse of 2008 and both wealth inequality and poverty are increasing, we find that once again labor and popular movements are rising to defend the rights of workers and their families. Tens of thousands of Verizon workers are on strike for a fair contract and to prevent outsourcing of high quality jobs. Teamsters in Maryland are picketing to protect their jobs at US Foods. And low-wage workers throughout the country have been protesting and going on strike for a higher minimum wage – and winning major victories throughout the country.
These fights and more are essential to stop the current race to the bottom. Employers, primarily those of larger corporations, are attacking wages, benefits, safety and quality of life for workers. Stable high-quality jobs have declined by 400,000 over the past decade, according to a recent study from Princeton University and the RAND Corporation. In that time period, all job growth came from what are known as "alternative job arrangements," such as temporary or freelance jobs providing low pay without benefits and worker protections. The General Accounting Office estimates that currently more than 40% of workers are in alternative arrangements, including part time work and self-employment. For the last several decades’ workers have been taking a shrinking share of the GDP. This has escalated under President Obama as almost all economic expansion has gone to the wealthiest 1% and continues to expand income and wealth inequality. Today, an astonishing 20 wealthiest people in the United States have the wealth of the bottom half of the population.
Another challenge to high-quality employment has come from trade agreements starting with the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994. Contrary to their claims, these agreements have driven a global race to the bottom in wages and worker protections for manufacturing jobs. Three new agreements are pending, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA). If these agreements are completed, they will drive a race to the bottom in additional sectors such as the service sector, which, among other areas, includes health, legal and accounting services, as well as public employees. The largest movement of movements including labor, environmentalists, food justice advocates and more are successfully stalling the TPP and maybe even stopping it. Join the “No Lame Duck Uprising” to stop the ratification of the TPP this November. This could be a tremendous victory of workers over transnational corporate power.
Globalization is not the only threat facing workers, robotics, artificial intelligence and computerization will have an even greater impact on jobs. Current technology could replace 47% of jobs today, and within three generations 70% of jobs will be replaced by computers. This reality demands a new approach by workers. Join us in advocating for a Guaranteed Basic Income because the truth is – there will never be enough jobs for future generations.
In addition, old challenges continue to be fought. Farm workers, who are at the bottom of the employment chain continue to face low pay and dangerous work conditions. The average lifespan of a farm worker is a mere 49 years as they work long hours at harsh work and are exposed to toxic chemicals throughout their lives. The one area that is exempt from child labor bans is agricultural workers. In the US and Mexico, farm laborers as young as ten years old are working in deplorable conditions. We all need to join their fight for justice. Please learn about and join the Driscolls Boycott.
When we lose high-quality jobs, the ripple effect extends widely. Lower incomes lead to lower spending all around and this drives more businesses, especially small ones, to failure. Without sufficient income, families go without medical care, food and other necessities and risk losing their homes. We can and we must stop this race to the bottom.
Please join me for the May Day March and Rally in Washington, DC this Sunday, May 1, starting at 2 pm in Malcolm X Park. After the rally, we will march to the White House. I will speak at the rally and lead the "Stop the TPP" contingent.
Learn more about the Guaranteed Basic Income, an idea that was mainstream in the United States in the 1970's, supported by economists and politicians on the right and left, and that is being revived in other countries. We need a Basic Income in the United States and more people are urging it in the United States.
This May Day, let us join together to march and rally in solidarity with workers and families. Let's recognize that we need to be in with solidarity workers and families around the world to stop the global race to the bottom. All workers deserve at a minimum, a job with a living wage and safe working conditions. We need to dramatically shrink inequality, grow the power of workers and participate in power – that is the essence of real democracy.