The DSA’s highest priority in the coming weeks is pushing for the PRO (Protecting the Right to Organize) Act, fixing U.S. law so that workers and unions can build the power to that leads to a Green New Deal and a just economy. Multiple religious groups have enthusiastically lined up alongside DSA and unions in this cause. Several organizations from different faith traditions last month co-authored a letter to members of Congress urging swift passage of the law ensuring workers’ rights to organize into unions and collectively bargain for fair pay and working conditions.
One of those religious groups, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, said, “Catholic Social Justice teaches us that we must invest in the value of human labor, which helps maintain the fabric of our society. With the current labor system structured to favor big businesses and corporations over worker-led unions, the PRO Act levels the playing field by making union organizing less difficult.”
Rabbi Michael Feinberg, executive director of the Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition and an activist in DSA’s Religion and Socialism Working Group who was recently the subject of a profile in Commonweal magazine, agrees that supporting the PRO Act is a moral imperative. “The right to form a union is not only a basic democratic right, it is one enshrined in religious ethics and law, certainly one found in Jewish rabbinic tradition,” he says. “It is the recognition that in unionizing workers can gain collective power to level the field with employers and owners–this is critical in a time of such obscene wealth inequality.”
The PRO Act addresses that inequality by breaking down some of the legal barriers that have blocked working people from coming together to demand fair wages and treatment. Before the Covid pandemic, U.S. unemployment rates were low and workers very much in demand, especially in globalization-proof roles like home health care and food service. Workers overall were also far more productive and better-educated than at any time in history. Yet wages were not keeping pace, with over 40% of U.S. workers struggling in low wage jobs.
Why didn’t increasing demand and more productivity lead to higher wages? Because unions have lost their power to increase the pay of their members and raise the wage floor for other workers, say experts like Professor Colin Gordon, a University of Iowa history professor. “Shared prosperity, including the expectation of wage gains in the long recovery from the Great Recession, rests on policies and institutions that sustain the bargaining power of workers,” he wrote in Dissent magazine. Gordon says unions serve as a “countervailing force” to corporate and political resistance to raise wages.
But corporate-friendly U.S. law has been blocking unions from assuming that role. Since the National Labor Relations Act was adopted in 1935, its impact has been steadily eroded by amendments and practices that undercut workers’ rights to form unions. The results are easy to quantify: while two of every three Americans support unions and half of them would join a union if they had a chance, only 15% of American workers were union members in 2020.
To read the full report on this critical collaboration between DSA and progressive religious groups, click through to the Religious Socialism website.