Our guest author today is David Madland, Senior Fellow and the Senior Adviser to the American Worker Project at the Center for American Progress. This post is part of a series of posts by speakers at our 2016 conference, "The Challenge of Precarious Labor," videos of which can be found here.
My goal is to provide a long-term vision of how we can address the fundamental economic and democratic challenges faced by our country, as well as to discuss some realistic steps for state and local governments to take to move us toward this vision.
Today’s economy does not work very well for most people. Wages have been stagnant for decades and inequality is near record highs. Many voters blame politicians for these problems – for doing the bidding of CEOs while leaving workers with too little power to get their fair share. Voter anger and the politicians fortified by it have put our democracy in real trouble.
There are of numerous reforms necessary to ensure that workers have sufficient power to raise wages, reduce inequality, and make democracy work for all Americans – including those that reduce the influence of money in politics and that promote full employment. But among the most important reforms are those that give workers a way to band together and have a strong collective voice. Collective voice enables workers to negotiate with CEOs on a relatively even footing and to hold politicians accountable. When workers have a strong collective voice, not only can they increase their own wages, but also improve labor standards across the economy and provide a key counterbalance to wealthy special interests, making politicians more responsive to the concerns of ordinary Americans.
But we need new and better ways for workers to achieve that strong collective voice. Fewer than 7 percent of workers in the private sector are members of a union – meaning that 93 percent are left out of the current system.