Friday, February 25, 2011

Labor Talk

Over the past week or so, I'm sure that you've noticed that I have interspersed a lot of quotes and commentary on the labor crisis in Wisconsin with the typical Taoist fare. I believe we are at a crucial crossroads in the American experience and how this current crisis of ideals plays out will alter said experience for generations to come.

If you haven't kept abreast with all the commentary, analysis and reporting on this issue, here is a brief sampling of some of the things being written.
Yes, America Still Needs Unions
by Joe Conason

But if you thumb back through the pages of our economic history over the past hundred years or so, a number of obvious facts stand out. First, the United States enjoyed a far better distribution of income and a steady improvement of our productivity and power when the labor movement was strong. Second, labor always struggled to expand human and civil rights for everyone, whether or not they happened to belong to unions. And third, the success of labor’s effort toward a more equitable society ensured broad prosperity for decades. As labor’s power diminished, income and wealth skewed upward—and helped drive the economy into stagnation and recession.

So Americans not only display ingratitude when they denigrate unions, which have done so much to improve the lives of ordinary people, but ignorance as well. Even in its terribly weakened condition, the labor movement remains a bulwark against the kind of corporate tyranny that would swiftly make serfs of the rest of us...
Two Public Pay Standards, One Statement of Values
by David Sirota

To the government-funded bankers, we’ve applied the notion of “you get what you pay for.” Thus, our government has refrained from ending exorbitant pay packages at taxpayer-funded banks in the name of “retaining talent.” That was the mantra of politicians and publicly subsidized financial executives when they weakened proposals to cap annual bank salaries at $500,000. Though an astronomical sum, one Wall Street adviser told reporters that half a million bucks “is not a lot of money,” while others repeated a talking point from a corporate report insisting that government-sponsored banks would “experience a talent drain” if barred from paying employees millions.

Of course, this same idea of paying a premium to retain talent is nowhere in our discussion about the other set of public workers. Instead, we mostly hear politicians and media voices berating teachers, firefighters and police officers as “freeloaders” or “welfare cases.” This, despite the Economic Policy Institute reporting that these non-bank public employees make 3.7 percent less than those in similar private-sector jobs...
The Dirty Secret of Public-Sector Union Busting
by Alyssa Battistoni

Amid all the rightful outrage over Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to do away with collective bargaining rights for public sector unions in Wisconsin, one important point has been neglected: The demise of public sector unions would be most detrimental to women and African-Americans, who make up a disproportionate share of the public sector workforce.

Much has been made of Walker's decision to exempt from his plan firefighter, police and state trooper unions -- conveniently, the only three public sector unions that endorsed him. But as Dana Goldstein points out, not only are the exempted unions largely Republican-leaning, they’re also overwhelmingly male -- over 70 percent of law enforcement personnel are male, as are over 96 percent of firefighters. On the other hand, many of the non-exempt unions represent professions that are disproportionately female -- approximately 80 percent of teachers are women, for example, as are 95 percent of nurses...

Our Economic Pain Is Coming from Big Industry CEOs, Not Public Employees' Unions
by John Schmitt

Back in the late 1970s, public- and private-sector jobs were not that different. About 70 percent of private-sector workers had health insurance through their jobs. Public-sector workers were a bit more likely to have coverage than private-sector workers --about 75 percent at the local level, 80 percent at the state level, and 85 percent at the federal level. Then, as now, this largely reflected that, on average, public employees were older and more likely to be college-educated than private-sector workers.

Health-coverage rates today are little changed in the public sector. But, coverage is down almost 15 percentage points for private-sector workers.

Over the last three decades, in our role as "employers" of public-sector workers, we taxpayers did the right thing. We generally kept our commitment to public-sector workers and their families. Coverage hasn't slipped, even if most public workers now pay a larger share of premiums, and have seen increases in deductibles and co-pays. In our other role, however, as employees in the private sector, we didn't get the same treatment from our own employers...

Union-Busting Is Theft -- a Weapon of Class Warfare from Above
by Joshua Holland

Defunding the American labor movement is a huge goal for Walker's corporate sponsors. Contrary to right-wing spin, it's illegal for unions to use workers' dues for political purposes, but union PACs, which are funded by voluntary contributions from their members, help pay for not only the campaigns of politicians who are friendly to workers but also a number of progressive think-tanks and advocacy groups that have proven to be a thorn in the side of the Corporate Right. (Just one example among many is U.S. Chamber Watch, which has proven to be such an obstacle for the Chamber of Commerce that it explored launching a sleazy disinformation campaign to discredit the group.)

But unions do more than that to advance a pro-middle-class agenda. They also educate workers and, as a result, union members are more likely to vote their economic interests than be blinded by culture war issues. In 2004, although George Bush won the votes of white working-class men by 25 percent over John Kerry, blue-collar white guys who belonged to unions broke for Kerry by 21 percent. Charles Noble, a political scientist at IC Long Beach, commented, “Clearly, union members had a different perspective on the election, most likely provided by the unions themselves, which poured millions into educating and mobilizing union households...”

Class War in Wisconsin
by Jeffrey Sommers

Today, US private sector workers have been reduced to Japanese-like long hours. Their health plans consist of HMOs providing substandard care, often having to navigate numbing bureaucracies, only to be told "coverage denied". They no longer have employer-paid pensions. Most are now on their own when it comes to retirement. Or if lucky, they may have a generous employer that gives half towards a 401k plan that merely feeds traders on Wall Street, while never delivering enough returns actually to fund their retirement.

In short, it has been a return of the mean season. Briefly, in 2008, this frustration was directed against the Republicans. Yet, the Democrats delivered no tangible gains for labour since taking power then, and now, the right has helped steer working-class anger away from Wall Street and back to Main Street's teachers and public employees. Deftly executed, private sector workers without benefits now blame workers who do have them as the cause of their deprivation. Instead of seeing the gains unions can deliver, private sector workers now take the lesson that these gains have somehow been taken at their expense – all the while ignoring the trough-feeding that continues unabated on Wall Street...


  1. Until now, I'm not sure the people have shown they were serious enough about unions for the Dems to make efforts for them. Maybe things will tip the other way now. One can dream...

    First I guess we need to break the infighting going on, the worker against worker stuff.

    I'm not totally all about class warfare because that too can destroy a society, but, well it's like how poor whites have been pitted against poor blacks and poor Mexicans. It's a diversion and a distraction while all three are raped by the wealthy and powerful.

  2. @RT - thanks, I'd missed a couple of those

    @Brandon - I sure hope you're right. We're long over due for a bit of working class solidarity.

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