Opinion: The Year of The Workers

News  /  Opinion

’Tis the season of gift giving — including Time magazine handing out its somewhat pompous “Person of the Year” award.

My beef with this gift is that it perpetuates the fallacy that social progress comes from some wonderous individual. It diminishes the more-inspiring fact that progress (and even the “greatness” of any one person) comes from the extended family — the group, the movement, the many — who sustain the alleged Person of the Year. It’s in that democratic spirit, then, that I suggest 2022 as The Year of The Workers.

Hardly a week has gone by without another group of employees daring to rise up here, there and everywhere to fight for union representation, family-sustaining wages, basic health care, rational work schedules, safe workplaces … and, well, respect for the fundamental American values of fairness and justice. Grassroots organizing has swept across most economic sectors this year, from teaching to railroads, but also in corporate workplaces previously assumed to be un-unionizable, like Amazon, Apple, Chipotle, Dollar General, Starbucks, Trader Joe’s and Uber.

What makes this rebellion even more worthy of recognition is that it signifies a tectonic democratic shift in our nation’s zeitgeist. For half a century, America’s dominant social/economic ethic has empowered elite corporate bosses to rule, decreeing that the mass of people who actually produce goods and services must obey… or else.

But what if very large numbers of non-elites suddenly started choosing “or else” — saying “We’re not going to take it anymore… we demand fairness, or we quit”? That’s what ordinary workers have done in 2022, providing new possibilities for creating a fairer, more dynamic society.

No one person could possibly have done this. So, with apologies to the “deciders” of Time magazine, I designate this as “The Year (maybe the Era) of The Workers.”

Yes, labor activism is growing these days, and Right-wing Republicans claim it’s the work of union agitators fomenting class warfare. Bovine excrement!

Rather, it’s the accumulation of years of actual class warfare waged against America’s workaday majority by avaricious corporate executives. As labor leaders know, unions don’t create organizing drives — bad bosses do. And our economy has become dominated by self-enriching, worker-abusing, bad bosses. So, fed-up working families are now rebelling.

Consider the ongoing revolt by railroad workers against the profiteering egos who run America’s monopolistic freight train system, which is dominated by just four giants. Forced to work without contracts since 2019, various rail unions joined this year in demanding reforms and prepared to go on a nationwide strike over abusive working conditions.

With a strike date looming in November, antsy corporations were close to agreeing to a contract. But in a last-minute act of raw greed, the bosses rejected a key worker demand that they get a few days of paid time off for family illnesses or to see a doctor! This was purely vindictive bossism, for the monopolists are rolling in cash, hauling off $21 billion in profits this year alone, Plus, the same honchos squawking that workers aren’t worthy of the basic human need for sick leave were drawing up to $20 million each in personal pay, while also getting luxury health care benefits and extensive time off with full pay.

Yet, Joe Biden and the Congress caved in to the railway bosses, arbitrarily forcing an “agreement” on the unions that provides only one day a year of paid sick leave for America’s essential rail workers. One day! The message is clear: Don’t count on the bosses or Bidens — workers must build a new politics with environmentalists, farmers, consumers and other “outsiders.”

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