In the last week, the government has released reports which show the rate of workers’ wages and the productivity of workers. The numbers could not possibly be more striking. In the last decades not only have workers’ wages stayed flat or started to fall, but employers are getting more and more out of the work that each of us does. It couldn’t be clearer. This is how the rich get richer – they make us do more work for less money.
Up until 1975, workers’ wages were more than 50 percent of the nation’s GDP. In other words, workers still got to keep a little over half of the wealth that they produced. But since that time, the proportion of wealth paid out to workers in wages has been driven down. Last year workers only kept 43 percent of the wealth. The rest was kept by the employers in the form of profits.
What’s worse, the share of that money counted as wages which goes to CEOs, Wall Street professionals, and other rich people has increased from 7.3 percent in 1979 to 12.9 percent in 2012. The average working family has lost 12.4 percent of its income during the last decade.
It’s not hard to see how this happens. Worse conditions and wages have been forced on workers year after year as they are forced to take concessions. Last year workers at Caterpillar went on strike against attacks to their wages and working conditions. Ultimately they were forced to sign a six-year contract with no wage increases. That same year Caterpillar recorded record profits.
Meanwhile the managers, CEOs, and others who engineer this squeeze are being rewarded with higher salaries, bonuses, and rewards. The average corporate executive makes 380 times as much as the average American worker.
It’s not only wages that have been shrinking for workers. In every new contract, the bosses try to get workers to pay into their pensions, and pay more for health care.
Today the amount of wealth received by workers in the form of benefits is the lowest it has been in 50 years. With every passing year, we are losing the prospect of a decent retirement, and adequate health care for our families.
In addition, the work we are doing is becoming more and more intense. The American economy is actually more productive than it has ever been. From 1973 to 2011, the productivity of the average American worker increased by 80 percent. Productivity has increased by 23 percent just in the last ten years. Have wages increased? Have benefits increased? Not at all. All of that hard work has only meant that we earn less for doing it.
It’s time we started to ask what right do the employers have to grind us into the ground? What right do they have to cut our wages and benefits? We see the consequences everyday. How many people have had to give up their homes because they can’t pay the mortgage? How many people struggle to give their children health care or education? How many little sacrifices do we have to make every day because year after year, we are being forced to work more for less?
This is unacceptable. There is more than enough wealth in this society to guarantee each and every person the right to have enough to live a decent life, and to provide health care, housing, and education for their families. No one should have to be unemployed. If there are people without jobs, they should be trained to work and take the load off of everyone else. If we produce more wealth by our work, then it should be the people who do the work that benefit. All of this is possible, but only if we begin to question the right of the corporations and the wealthy elite to control our lives and our work.
They need us but we don’t need them. The corporations and the employers need workers to do the work and to produce the wealth. Just ask yourself what would happen if all the managers and CEOs called in sick one day? Nothing. But what if all of the workers called in sick? The whole society would shut down. That is our power. It’s time we organized ourselves to use it.