By Joe Bageant, JUNE 18, 2009
In looking back on growing up, I always remember 1957 and 1958 at “the two good years,” They were the only years my working class redneck family ever caught a real break in their working lives, and that break came because of organized labor. After working as a farm hand, driving a hicktown taxi part ti me, and a dozen catch as catch can jobs, my father found himself owning a used semi-truck and hauling produce for a Teamster unionized trucking company called Blue Goose.
Daddy was making more money than he’d ever made in his life, about $4,000 a year. The median national household income at the time was $5,000, mostly thanks to America’s unions. After years of moving from one rented dump to another, we bought a modest home, ($8,000) and felt like we might at last be getting some traction in achieving the so-called “American Dream.” Yup, Daddy was doing pretty good for a backwoods boy who’d quit school in the sixth or seventh grade — he was never sure, which gives some idea how seriously the farm boy took his attendance at the one-room school we both attended in our lifetimes.
This was the golden age of both trucking and of unions. Thirty-five percent of American labor, 17 million working folks, were union members, and it was during this period the American middle class was created. The American middle class has never been as big as advertised, but if it means the middle third income-wise, then we actually had one at the time. But whatever it means, one third of working folks, the people who busted their asses day in and day out making the nation function, were living better than they ever had. Or at least had the opportunity to do so.