Union contracts could ensure economic stability among the working class amid inflation.

By Hamilton Nolan, In These Times

Inflation is an economic phenomenon whose nuances remain a mystery even to economists. That hasn’t stopped politicians from wielding it as a weapon to villainize anyone they wish, from environmentalists (blamed for rising gas prices) to annoying outsiders (condemned for driving up housing costs). In reality, we know one group will always pay the price for inflation and bear the burden of increasing costs: working people.

Elementary teachers protest Bill 115 on January 26 2013 in Toronto, Canada

Yet the most important practical tool for protecting workers from the ravages of inflation — unionization— is almost totally absent from today’s panicked political dialogue.

In the same way that seemingly every foreign war is compared with World War II, every bout of high inflation in America triggers immediate comparison to the late 1970s. (Our national historical knowledge does not run very deep.) If you lived through that traumatizing economic period, you may remember long gas lines and the ensuing super-high interest rates. What you may not remember is that a large portion of Americans had a shield against inflation that few have today: a union contract.

Rather than allowing the increasingly frantic tenor of inflation rhetoric to drive us toward typical penurious solutions paid for by the poor and middle class, we should instead be talking about how to expand unionization to ensure that when the price of everything rises, so do wages.

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