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Wisconsin: It’s Really All About Politics – Breaking Labor to Break the Dems and The Working Class

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From Kevin Drum on the decline of unions and why:

“Union leaders like John L. Lewis, George Meany, and Walter Reuther were routine sources for reporters from the ’30s through the ’70s. And why not? They made news. The contracts they signed were templates for entire industries. They had the power to bring commerce to a halt. They raised living standards for millions, they made and broke presidents, and they formed the backbone of one of America’s two great political parties.

They did far more than that, though. As historian Kim Phillips-Fein puts it, “The strength of unions in postwar America had a profound impact on all people who worked for a living, even those who did not belong to a union themselves.” (Emphasis mine.) Wages went up, even at nonunion companies. Health benefits expanded, private pensions rose, and vacations became more common. It was unions that made the American economy work for the middle class, and it was their later decline that turned the economy upside-down and made it into a playground for the business and financial classes.

Technically, American labor began its ebb in the early ’50s. But as late as 1970, private-sector union density was still more than 25 percent, and the absolute number of union members was at its highest point in history. American unions had plenty of problems, ranging from unremitting hostility in the South to unimaginative leadership almost everywhere else, but it wasn’t until the rise of the New Left in the ’60s that these problems began to metastasize.

The problems were political, not economic. Organized labor requires government support to thrive—things like the right to organize workplaces, rules that prevent retaliation against union leaders, and requirements that management negotiate in good faith—and in America, that support traditionally came from the Democratic Party. The relationship was symbiotic: Unions provided money and ground game campaign organization, and in return Democrats supported economic policies like minimum-wage laws and expanded health care that helped not just union members per se—since they’d already won good wages and benefits at the bargaining table—but the interests of the working and middle classes writ large.

Organized labor, for all its faults, acted as an effective countervailing power for decades, representing not just its own interests, but the interests of virtually the entire wage-earning class against the investor class. As veteran Washington Post reporter David Broder wrote a few years ago, labor in the postwar era “did not confine itself to bread-and-butter issues for its own members. It was at the forefront of battles for aid to education, civil rights, housing programs and a host of other social causes important to the whole community. And because it was muscular, it was heard and heeded.” If unions had been as strong in the ’80s and ’90s as they were in the ’50s and ’60s, it’s almost inconceivable that they would have sat by and accepted tax cuts and financial deregulation on the scale that we got. They would have demanded economic policies friendlier to middle-class interests, they would have pressed for the appointment of regulators less captured by the financial industry, and they would have had the muscle to get both.

And that means things would have been different during the first two years of the Obama era, too.”

Now to add to Drum’s analysis of the decline of unions is a blog by Monkey Cage which shows quite clearly, using verifiable data, that deficits in states with right to work laws are no lower than in unionized states. Thus, one can conclude that public unions are not the drivers of state deficits. So, if deficits are similar in both non-public union states and unionized states, then deficits cannot be blamed on unions.

Yes, the financial crash left pension funds in both the public and private sector with deficits, which has affected state budgets, mainly as a result of governments not putting aside the promised funds for pensions, choosing instead to spend that money elsewhere, whether on social programs or tax cuts.

Nevertheless, the states did make an agreement with the unions, just as your private employer made with you. In WI, the pension fund is doing pretty well, according to Wall St ratings. And certainly better than in many right to work states.

Moreover, what would be the consequences of highly educated public workers having their incomes stagnate and benefits lowered over time? Would the more promising educated workers choose to enter the private market for considerably more income, thus leaving only the worst, least motivated and innovative workers in the system? I had some of those teachers so please spare me, or more correctly, my grandchildren! It’s obvious Walker and other GOP governors who are proposing similar measures have not considered these consequences. And apparently they don’t care.

I’m an old geezer. I remember the tactics used during the Nixon campaign. While these political tactics are far more legal than Nixon used, they are still of the same mold: defeat your opponent through disinformation that changes the public’s mind; prevent their constituents (via registration cards – see Ohio) from going to the ballots boxes; and cut off their main sources of funding. Of course, new social media has enabled less than ethical GOP groups to scrape social media sites like Facebook and publicize private information on opponents’ families as a way to intimidate opponents.

Now, maybe you think all of this scamming and disinformation is fair and acceptable, but I do not. It’s not what I grew up learning as ethical or moral. Yes, unions have abused their demands over the decades, but it takes two to tango. Governors and management could have laid the financial facts on the table and said no. But they didn’t. Senior managers and governors had lots of choices to rein in employee expenses, but they failed to do so. Instead they pretended and promised what they couldn’t deliver to employees who believed them and who often accepted much lower wages for higher benefits and job security. In private industry, that kind of action would end up in court…and often has. Should states get away with private industry can not? Or are contracts, regardless of chief executive, only valid for one side of the bargaining table – the employee side.

Now compare Walker and the new GOP governors to what Pearlstein says in his latest WaPo column:

“Back when I was working at Inc. magazine in the mid-1980s, we loved nothing better when approaching a public-sector issue than to ask how the private sector would handle it. Faced with the situation in Wisconsin, we would have called up Tom Peters or Peter Drucker and posed the example of a new chief executive brought in by the shareholders (i.e., the voters) to rescue a company suffering from operating losses (budget deficit) and declining sales (jobs). Invariably, they would have recommended sitting down with employees, explaining the short-and long-term economic challenges and working with them to improve productivity and product quality in a way that benefits both shareholders and employees.”

What, then, if not financial is the driver to crush unions if not fiscal? Politics perhaps?

“In the House, Republicans passed, as part of their continuing resolution to fund the federal government through September, a provision that slashed the funding of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) by one-third.
In other words, the House leadership supported abolishing the right of American workers – in the private sector no less than the public sector – to bargain collectively.

It is, after all, the NLRB that conducts the elections through which private-sector workers choose or reject a union. It is the NLRB that polices business and labor misconduct and that has the power to rule a strike or lockout unlawful. No other agency of government has that power. Defunding the NLRB would be like defunding every election board in the country during presidential and congressional elections: People would maintain, theoretically, their right to elect their officials, but there’d be no one to print the ballots or count the votes.

When the congressional Republicans’ attack on the board is considered alongside the union-busting offensives of Republican governors, it’s clear that a working majority of the Republican Party is bent on abolishing unions. As union membership has declined to a mere 6.9 percent of the private-sector workforce, resentment toward unionized public-sector workers, who have retained the benefits that private-sector workers had when they were unionized, has grown – creating a political opportunity for Republicans to mount their assault. But why bother to defund the NLRB when private-sector unionism is so low?

The answer is that unions remain the most effective part of the Democratic coalition in turning out minority voters come election time and in getting working-class whites to vote Democratic. As such, they are the linchpin of progressive change in America. Taking them off the political map isn’t about budgets. It’s about removing a check on right-wing and business power in America.”

Since public and private unions are the primary or major donors and activists for the Democratic party, it only makes sense, from a strategically political point of view, for Republicans to defund and de-legitimize unions. Breaking the unions – all unions both public and private – by making them ultimate bad guys in the public’s mind enables the GOP to control elections with their newly found corporate funds, a la Citizens United.

The result of denying funds and dedicated activists to the Democratic party are obvious.We see it playing out all over the country, from requiring special state approved voting cards that can only be obtained from special state locations (see Ohio) to overturning the Voting Rights Act to now actively working to break unions as noted above.

But these actions are more than just about winning elections, it’s about the economic direction of the country: what it will look like in 25 years. If the Koch Bros (Americans for Prosperity) and Karl Rove’s groups and the national Chamber of Commerce and all of the other corporate sponsored groups win, what will your life and those of your children be in 25 years? Will they look like the the 1890s before TR’s safeguards which apparently is what the modern GOP seems dedicated to return to? Are the moral values of the Puritan Father – “you’re an island unto yourself and should never ask for help or accept any offered to you” – the kind of commons, or community values, that exemplify America? That is not America. Nor has it in reality ever been.

Kevin Drum: http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/02/income-inequality-labor-union-decline?page=1
Monkey Cage: http://www.themonkeycage.org/2011/02/the_relationship_between_union.html
Steve Pearlstein: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/22/AR2011022207620.html


Written by Valerie Curl

February 24, 2011 at 8:27 AM

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