As we observe Labor Day 2011, it's clear that working men and women in the U.S. and Canada are hurting. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis' latest data shows that an economic recovery has yet to materialize, economic growth has stalled and jobless rates remain persistently high. Some 6.3 million people looking for work have been off the job for over six months, and the average period of unemployment for workers has ballooned to over 40 weeks.
Even Canada, which has had a relatively robust economy during the worldwide economic crisis, saw its economy shrink between April and June in the wake of plummeting exports.
Still, the rich are getting richer, and their obscene wealth continues to grow. Median pay for top executives in the 200 largest U.S. companies rose a whopping 23 percent between 2009 and 2010 as the recession dragged on, with an average salary of $10.8 million. In 2010, the top 20 percent of Americans earned 49.4 percent of the nation's income, and the top 1 percent accounted for 24 percent of all income.
It's far too much money going to far too few people, and it is taking its toll on the rest of us.
As more and more money continues to be siphoned off by the wealthiest, the middle class is being decimated. Workers' wages have been stagnant for a generation, and unemployment continues to hover at around nine percent. In some communities, unemployment has risen over 16 percent. If workers stuck in part-time employment are added to the national unemployment figure, the national unemployment rate is 16.1 percent.
To bring working people out of this recession, we need to create good jobs -- not just any jobs -- with wages that can provide the foundation for strengthening families. The same old low wage, low benefit, and low security jobs are not going to get it done, and will just contribute to a cycle that keeps most of the wealth at the top, and communities mired in poverty.
Today, the RWDSU is part of a progressive labor movement that sees workers, community groups, and clergy banding together to fight for new and innovative ways of creating quality jobs and building our communities and better lives for working people. We are fighting for living wage laws that require developers who receive major taxpayer-funded subsidies to pay at least a living wage for the jobs they create. Living wage legislation tells developers that when they get richer off the backs of community resources, they have to give something back: quality jobs that build lives and strengthen communities.
Unions are bringing a voice to immigrant workers and their families, who find themselves at the mercy of unscrupulous employers looking to exploit them.
And unions are bringing back the promise that work can be more than just a means of survival, but a building block for a better life, a career, and a secure retirement.
We celebrate Labor Day to remember the contributions of worker activists in the past, and how they changed the lives of working people, but also to remind ourselves that today's battles are as important as any we have ever fought.
When workers join together in unions like the RWDSU, they are saying that they still believe in the social compact that says if you put in an honest day of work, you and your family can expect a solid foundation on which to build your lives.