Health care workers at the CT State Capitol, June 2023 1199 New England

This Labor Day, leaders of Connecticut industry will scramble to assure us that their employees are all valued and respected. The Wall Street Journal told us so last May. But how would we measure that? Not with wage comparisons. Not with health and safety on the job. Not with sick days or vacation pay. Maybe turkeys at Christmas.

American workers rate their job satisfaction lower than almost all others in the advanced world labor market. We are 29th out of 30 countries analyzed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). This 35-nation member group surveys these questions to advance sound public policies. Here is what the world reads about us:

The USA is the second worst country for work conditions and benefits, having received a work and employment score of just 2.37. Workers in the USA are the only ones to receive no guaranteed maternity leave or paid public holidays and annual leave. These leave policies are left entirely up to the discretion of individual companies.

Ouch.

This is why there is an explosion of union organizing in Connecticut and around the country, currently with Hollywood actors and writers. The remarkable 2018 victory of the West Virginia teachers’ strike sparked other school systems and inspired workers everywhere, which caught the fire and won their increases too. The teachers understood it’s not just about pay; they also won smaller class sizes, adequate supplies, more school aides and nurses.

What’s the secret? No secret, just the lessons our grandparents learned while they were building their unions in the garment and needle trades, textile mills and shoe factories, machine tool and retail clerk unions. No matter what the surveys and studies show, the best way to judge workers’ well-being is to watch what they do.

Connecticut has 225,000 union workers, a higher percentage than the national average. This year alone, 2,000 Yale graduate researchers and teachers won their long-fought struggle to unionize. Starbucks workers are organizing for mutual protection and progress all around the state. UPS Teamsters, railroad workers and healthcare heroes here made significant improvements for themselves and their families.

The report released on August 28 by the U.S. Treasury Department acknowledges labor unions are critical to fighting income inequality, which has seen a dramatic rise in recent decades as attacks on unions increase and real wages have stalled.

Better quality of life, more stable communities, reduced poverty and discrimination, increased satisfaction on the job– these are some of the tangible benefits union workers are winning for themselves.

These improvements benefit non-union workers as well. The 60 state organizations of the Recovery For All coalition, born out of the covid pandemic, includes Connecticut unions, religious and service providers that have pledged to support each other in their common quest for human needs funding.

There is a method to the mad attacks on workers today. The battles we fought and won as a labor movement for the past 150 years are back with a vengeance: the return of child labor, attacks on women’s freedom, voter suppression, racist right-wing and police violence, obscene military spending, billionaire control of democracy.

If we only knew our history, we could figure out the best way to fight these pervasive evils. We could learn from those who came before and risked all, overcoming fear and resistance to forge better lives and a better society.

Wait a minute. Is this why some Republicans are so desperate to hide history from our kids?

Steve Thornton is a retired union organizer who writes about Connecticut “history from below” at the Shoeleather History Project