- Janice Fine discusses how the decline of organized labour as a political force has opened the door for the likes of Donald Trump:
Just when we need them most, the main institutions that have fought for decent jobs are a shadow of their former selves. Unions that have played a singular role in forging solidarity across racial, ethnic, and gender lines can now do so only for a diminishing number of Americans. Adding insult to injury, it is not just the right that has hastened their demise; liberals have been dismissing unions for years.- Derrick O'Keefe writes about the need for a more courageous progressive movement to stem the twin dangers of neoliberalism and exclusionism. And James Di Fiore theorizes that Charlie Angus may represent an ideal leader for that type of groundswell.
Unions matter for all the reasons described above, but more than anything, they are critical to the functioning of our democracy because of the role they have played in shaping working-class political consciousness and ideology. It has been largely through unions that American workers have developed an understanding of which side of the fence they are on, who is there with them, and who is on the other side. Of course they have had stiff competition, especially in recent years, from Fox News, Breitbart, the National Rifle Association, and now from Donald Trump. But this is precisely the reason it is so important for them to have the rights and the resources to organize and build real local structures. Union locals were once citizenship schools for the working class. When unions were weakened, working-class people lost a central means through which they could develop an understanding of the world—of who was to blame for the decline in their standard of living and how to take action to correct it.
Working-class people of all races and ethnicities have reason to be furious. Barack Obama extended unemployment benefits during the recession, bailed out the auto industry, expanded healthcare for millions of people, and extended overtime pay to millions, but for eight years he put investment bankers in charge of the nation’s economic policies, declined to break up big banks, and preached the advantages of free trade. He froze federal salaries, extended the Bush tax cuts, worried about the deficit, and skimped on the stimulus package. His narrative of recovery conflated a rising stock market and soaring corporate profits with an improving economy for regular people.
While millions of mid-wage jobs were lost during the Great Recession, including many in the public sector, few have been added back in the recovery. The optimistic tenor of the monthly jobs report conceals a bitter truth: the economy is adding jobs, but they are disproportionately low wage. Our nation today is an especially brutal place for older workers.
In the absence of unions, no other institutions have arisen that have elevated the voice, needs, and aspirations of working-class people and organized at the scale they once achieved. In the absence of collective institutions, people have been known to look to charismatic men who promise to make their countries great again.
While finding meaning in the election results is by definition a complex and complicated task, no one can credibly argue that Trump’s voters felt adequately listened to in the months and years leading up to last Tuesday’s political earthquake. It is unlikely that their lot will improve in a nation’s capital under Republican rule. Had they had strong institutions to express their collective voice, I, for one, believe the outcome would have been much, much different.
- Emily Mathieu reports on the federal government's less-than-surprising conclusion that we desperately need a national housing strategy to respond to a crisis of availability and affordability - though it's far from certain whether that will lead to action. And Christopher Cheung comments on the particular lack of family-friendly housing in urban areas.
- Meanwhile, Derek Cook argues that instead of treating poverty as a problem to be fixed solely through dispassionate and impersonal policies, rather than a social wound which needs to be healed with compassion and care.
- Finally, Carl Zimmer highlights the devastating effect global warming is having on the food chain in the Arctic. And Graham Thomson points out points out Alberta's experience with "clean coal" - and how it debunks the theory spouted by Trump and Brad Wall among few that carbon capture and storage is a remotely viable answer to the environmental dangers of relying on fossil fuels.