2022: The Year of the Workers

Instead of Time magazine’s somewhat pompous annual “Person of the Year” award, how a “Year of the Workers” award?

‘Tis the season of sugar plums and gift-giving — including the time that Time magazine hands out its somewhat pompous annual “Person of the Year” award.

My beef with this gift is that it perpetuates the fallacy that social progress comes from some wondrous 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, job security… and, well, respect for the fundamental American values of fairness and justice. Major grassroots organizing actions have swept across most economic sectors this year, including unionized industries, but also in notable 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 than the immediate benefit it delivers to the people directly involved is that it signifies a tectonic democratic shift in our nation’s zeitgeist. For half a century, America’s increasingly dominant social/economic ethic has arrogantly 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.”

Why, you might ask, is there so much labor activism these days? Right-wing Republicans claim it’s the work of union agitators fomenting class warfare. That’s bovine excrement!

Rather, it’s the accumulation of years of actual class warfare waged against America’s workaday majority by avaricious corporate executives and financiers. 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 against that system’s flagrant inequality.

Consider the ongoing revolt by railroad workers against the profiteering egos who run America’s monopolistic freight train system, now dominated by just two giants controlling traffic in Western states and two others controlling the East. They’ve calculatedly forced rank-and-file employees to work without contracts since 2019 — until this year when various rail unions joined in demanding reforms and prepared to go on a nationwide strike over abusive working conditions.

With a strike date looming in November, the two sides were close to reaching a contract agreement. Then, in a last-minute act of raw greed, the bosses rejected a key worker demand that they have a right to take a few days of paid time off for family illnesses or to see a doctor! This was purely vindictive bossism for the monopolists who were 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 not only drawing up to $20 million each in personal pay, but also were getting luxury health care benefits and given extensive time off with full pay.

Yet President 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.”

Jim Hightower