Tag Archives: minimum wage

Book Review: Rosenblum, Jonathan “Beyond $15. Immigrant workers, faith activists, and the revival of the labor movement.” Beacon Press, Boston, 2017

Jonathan Rosenblum led the long campaign that ended when Sea-Tac, Washington, won a $15/hour minimum wage. Even if he had never done anything else, everyone should read his book.

VB jonathan rosenblum_1

But he actually did a lot of other things in thirty-odd years as an organizer. He’s on Wikipedia at


I knew Jonathan when we both headed local Jobs with Justice chapters. As I recall, his statewide group included five successful chapters fighting for justice along with unions, churches, civil rights organizations, and community groups. Both of us were at the Battle in Seattle.

Jonathan was working for the Service Employees Union (SEIU) when he helped bring about the ground-breaking miracle in Sea-Tac. But his success came from the Jobs with Justice approach of bringing everyone together, union or not, to focus on a common problem. It’s something that almost all organizers talk about, many of us try, and very few have actually found their way to victories. On the other hand, traditional union organizing drives have been failing for decades.

During my own 25 years with Jobs with Justice, I joined many many union campaigns. All of them welcomed my help and the help of the diverse organizations and spokespersons that I worked with. I can’t think of a single union, though, that significantly accepted our input in the process. We were always helpers, and willing helpers at that, but never partners. That’s the difference in the Rosenblum approach.

Without going into historical reasons for it, Rosenblum blames the “business unionism” that took over in the United States in 1947 and continues today, for our failures and our diminishing union density. He doesn’t overlook the all-out anti-worker government initiatives that have prevailed since 1980, in fact he describes the assault concerning the airline industry in detail, but he thinks that today’s unions could cope a lot better than we have.


Coping with the joint business/government offensive against working people is not just a matter of making a few adaptations. Rosenblum believes that present union structures are doomed to failure and must be rebuilt on a new basis of solidarity with all workers. He doesn’t comment on the present efforts of the main labor federation, the AFL-CIO, in a strong progressive direction, and that is possibly because his SEIU union had split away.

Value of Union Bargaining

I don’t know if my own endorsement would mean anything, but I 100% agree with the following quote about our complete misunderstanding of the bargaining process:

Page 164: “In my experience bargaining union contracts and negotiating with politicians, I found that labor negotiators – both paid union staff and also union members – nearly always overestimate the importance of what happens at the bargaining table. The process of negotiating can become all-consuming. In that environment it becomes natural for participants to overvalue factors like the strength of the spokespeople, the authority of facts and data, the logic of the argument, or your relationship with your management counterpart. You begin to believe that the bargaining room is the center of the struggle. But it’s not. It’s just the place where workers reap the rewards of the pressure that they’ve been able to imposer on an adversary through collective workplace or street action, economic or political leverage, and media coverage. And the bargaining rewards will be in direct relationship to the amount of power that workers have been able to exert away from the table.”

Finding Answers

Leadership is knowing what to do next. Unfortunately, Rosenblum can’t offer a “cookbook” for success in all campaigns. He offers a lot of inspiration and some very general guidelines on his last page:

Pg191 (last page summary): “Big change won’t come from the brilliance of individual leaders or a political masterstroke, but rather by combining the thousands of acts of simple courage and grace that on their own may seem inconsequential, but together make for wholesale transformation. From these daily lessons, from the wreckage of our present circumstances, we can create a new labor movement, win back power for working people, and build a just society.”

Don’t miss this book!

–Gene Lantz

I’m still on at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. Podcasts for the last two weeks are available from the “events” tab on KNON’s home page. If you want to know what I really think, check out my personal web site.

The Economic Policy Institute recently ran a couple of good studies about wages.


Factory Workers Earn More Money

EPI says, “…manufacturing workers still earn 13.0 percent more in hourly compensation than comparable private-sector workers. This manufacturing premium, however, has declined by about one-fourth (3.9 percentage points) since the 1980s, when it was 16.9 percent.” So why do manufacturing workers make more money than “comparable” people? And why is the margin diminishing?

Here’s another question that bugs the heck out of my friends who work in aerospace but are members of the Auto Workers Union: “Why do auto workers get much better contracts than aerospace workers?” We work just as hard and have had as much or more training. We have the same national union leaders, the same history, and the same intentions, but our wages and conditions have never been as good as theirs. Why?

It’s Not the Work, It’s the Organizing

Manufacturing workers are easier to organize than other workers. There are more of them in one place. They work closer together. They live closer together, They have more of the same interests. Contrast, for example, techies. Techies are notoriously hard to organize, even though they may really want a union. They live all over the place. They work almost entirely alone. Some of them actually work at home. They tend to travel for work. They don’t usually advance within the same company, but move from one company to another for advancement. It is very hard to organize techies.

The easier we are to organize, the more likely we are to have a union and thus get better wages.

Aerospace workers can cuss the auto workers all they want, but the fact is that auto workers were easier to organize. Assembly line production calls for the highest levels of cooperation among workers. Take just a few of the workers off an assembly line, and it has to shut down!

Airplanes, for the most part, aren’t made on assembly lines. It’s hard to win a strike in aerospace, but it’s much easier in auto. Better organizing, better contracts!

Why Is the Gap Decreasing?

EPI says that the gap between [organized] factory workers and everybody else is decreasing since 1980. I almost laughed when I saw that date. 1980 is the year that American government set new anti-worker policies and elected its best enforcer —
Ronald Reagan. So the question answers itself.

Unionism in America has atrophied beneath the government assault, and the advantage of unionism is not nearly as widespread as it was pre-Reagan. We fell from 35% of the workforce to the present 11%. Union workers still make way more money than non-union workers doing comparable work, but there just aren’t that many union workers left to bring up the statistics.

Whose Wages Are Rising?

The other interesting article from EPI said, “States with minimum wage increases between 2013 and 2017 saw faster wage growth for low-wage workers compared with states without any minimum wage increases (5.2 percent vs. 2.2 percent).”

Last month, Wall Street had a minor panic when it was announced that wages were rising for the first time in recent history. They were barely rising, but they were slightly higher than inflation for that same period. Since then, economists and political pundits have been saying that wages will continue to rise and that the government will have to take steps, such as raising interest rates, against the trend.

Capitalists may say otherwise, in fact they do, but they do not want wages to rise.

But wages did, statistically, rise a little bit in February, 2018. The reason was that some local and state governments, responding to political pressure from working people, were beginning to raise their minimum wages. An increase for low-wage workers has a profound effect on statistics, because there are so many low-wages workers. Also, all wages tend to rise when they are pushed up from the bottom.

Nineteenth century writers Karl Marx and Frederich Engels noted that workers would tend to benefit themselves more by organizing politically than they would by fighting the bosses one company at a time. It’s not a new idea; it’s just a true one.

Crossing the Line

There are a lot of references to “the line” in literature. There’s the “red line,” there’s the “line in the sand,” and there’s the “picket line.” If you want to get someone to answer the question “Which side [of the line] are you on?” just ask them if they support increasing the minimum wage. It cuts through a lot of verbiage.

Even though unemployment is statistically low, and the time is ripe for organizing, your own wages aren’t likely to rise much until you actually organize. Either organize a union on the job or organize politically to raise wages. That’s the road to success!

–Gene Lantz

I’m still on 89.3FM in Dallas every Saturday at 9 AM Central /Time. If you want to know what I really think, check out my personal web site.