There are so many ways for Americans to express their patriotism, from flying the Stars and Stripes this 4th of July and voting in elections to serving in the military and chanting “U-S-A.! U-S-A!” during the Olympics. That’s what makes America great — each of us can relate to and demonstrate our patriotism in our own unique fashion.
But how about consumer patriotism? There’s no question Americans love to shop – spending an estimated $5 trillion a year on retail goods alone. How we spend our money can be just as meaningful a statement about love of country. When we look for that “Made in the U.S.A.” label or buy an American-made car, we’re making a statement about our values. And it’s not just a statement as it relates to a product, but as it relates to the people who made that product. By buying American, we’re saying that it’s important to support the people who made the car or delivered the beverage through their sweat and hard work. It is a simple and noble gesture and a testament to what we consider consequential.
What would happen if we kick that patriotism up a notch? Let’s not just buy products made here in America, but purchase those goods and services from companies that treat their employees well through fair pay, good wages and safe working conditions. Such conditions are often, but not exclusively, guaranteed under the enforcement of a union contract.
A consumer movement focused on buying union and buying American would revolutionize this country and strengthen the middle class in a way not seen in a generation. If we as Americans spend our hard-earned dollars on goods made by companies that treat their employees with respect and pay them fair wages, those companies will grow and hire more employees. And those employees – our neighbors, our friends, our family – will enjoy a strengthening middle class lifestyle lacking in want and basking in security.
Such a consumer movement will lead this nation into a perpetuating cycle of prosperity as good companies and the middle class blossom. Consequently, companies that pay no more than the minimum wage and don’t offer any sort of benefits or job protections to its workers will start feeling the pinch. Eventually those bottom feeders will whiter away, or change their tune and get with the program of a prospering America.
Unfortunately, right now, it’s nearly impossible to spend every dollar effectively, but if the American consumer were to direct just 10 percent of his or her spending money in this way, the impact would be far reaching. Just look at the green movement and the growth of environmentally friendly products lining store shelves.
Some argue that spending money on union-made goods and services is more expensive. Maybe, maybe not. There are plenty of hotels, automobile manufacturers, potato chip makers and more with competitive prices. And you know those goods will be better made and services better rendered because their workers are better trained and, frankly, happier because of good pay, benefits and job security.
And what if a good or service provided by a high-road company is a little more expensive than those offered by penny-pinching businesses who don’t give a rip about their employees? What is the true societal cost of low-wage, no-benefit unsafe jobs? Poverty, crime, longer welfare rolls, and more Medicaid recipients. You as a taxpayer are already subsidizing these workers every day, so why not just spend that extra few cents or dollars knowing it’s supporting goods jobs? Once again, look at the green movement, where consumers spend a little bit extra on environmentally friendly products knowing they will make a difference for the long-term health of the planet.
Considering who or what is behind a brand is important to the powerful and influential Millennial generation. According to a recent Forbes article, 75% of Millennials “said that it’s either fairly or very important that a company gives back to society instead of just making a profit.”
The time for such a consumer movement that supports good jobs is now, with widening wealth and income gaps and a shrinking middle class exacerbating the gulf between the haves and have-nots. It’s the right thing to do, the patriotic thing to do, and the American thing to do.