There was a fascinating op-ed by Paul Krugman this week about the contradiction (he argues) between increased policy focus on expanding and improving education and whether it actually impacts income inequality. His thesis is that while education is essential, it is a non-sequitur as an answer to the decline in value of real wages.
I haven’t thought long enough on the issue to have a firm opinion. However, you can see the relevance of his idea on the various recent efforts in the Maine Legislature to address the “skills gap” and in Washington with the President’s call to make community college more affordable. Is this targeted focus on education actually the solution to so many people not making livable wages?
Interestingly, this editorial comes right as the Fairpoint strike has finally ended, which makes me think Krugman is on to something. In case you missed it, the 131 strike came to an end with an agreement between Labor and Management, and the ratification of that agreement by the members.
How do we score the result? Both sides offered positive quotes about the deal. The company won concessions, but the union reduced the impact significantly. However, it’s more than just a bottom line calculation. The workers also won more affordable health care coverage and limits on the company’s ability to outsource work. Better benefits and more work. Sounds like a recipe for chopping away at income inequality to me.
The outcome of the strike proves to me that while educating the masses is always good, a good education does not always mean good pay. The tool that helped our Fairpoint workers achieve better benefits was not more education but instead the organization of the people.
There is an old saying that “knowledge is power.” But, the organized workers at Fairpoint just proved that their voices and their resolve are just a powerful. It is something to consider as we try to find ways to fight income inequality for workers in Maine and beyond.
About the author: Ben Grant is an attorney at the workers’ rights law firm, McTeague Higbee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 207-725-5581.