DON'T COUNT THE LABOR MOVEMENT OUT
by Walter M. Brasch
AR Senior Correspondent
September 3, 2012
BLOOMSBURG, Pa., Sept. 3, 2012 -- Almost every conservative political columnist, pundit, commentator, blogger, and freelance bloviator has written about the decline and forthcoming death of the labor movement.
They happily point to Wisconsin, where Republican Gov. Scott Walker, shortly after taking office in January 2011, took advantage of a brand-new Republican majority in the Wisconsin House and Senate to ram through legislation that stripped numerous collective bargaining rights away from public employee unions. Among those rights were those that assure decent working conditions and a fair grievance process to prevent arbitrary and discriminatory discipline.
The Republicans point to Ohio, where Republican Gov. John Kasich, with similar legislative support, signed legislation in March 2011 that restricted collective bargaining rights for public-sector employees.
They point to state after state where Republican legislators, with the financial support of private industry have brought forth self-serving bills to oppose collective bargaining.
The conservative mantra panders to the middle-class pocketbook by creating a pseudo-populist appeal. The right wing claims they are the ones who care about the people enough to cut government spending, which will lower all kinds of taxes. They altruistically scream that inflated payrolls and pensions caused economic problems, and the best way to help those who are struggling in a depressed economy is to cut their wages, health benefits and pensions, supposedly lowering those costs by curtailing the perceived power of unions. It sounds nice; it's also rhetoric encased in lies.
Numerous economic studies have shown that the pay for public union employees is about the same as for private sector employees in similar jobs. And in some jobs, public-sector workers earn significantly less than non-unionized, private-sector workers, with the result that professionals and technical specialists often switch jobs from government to private industry - usually for higher wages and better benefits.
So what, exactly, is the problem? Tax cuts. President Bill Clinton left office in 2001 after giving the nation a strong economy. During the "Go-Go" years in the first part of the 21st Century, under the Bush-Cheney Administration, states and the federal government created tax cuts for individuals, and held out generous tax cuts, tax waivers, and subsidies to corporations. The Republican theory was that these tax cuts would eventually "trickle down" to the masses by stimulating the economy.
What happened was that instead of benefitting most Americans, these "wealthfare" and corporate welfare programs failed to stimulate an economy that was declining because the Republican executive and legislative branches, preaching less government, didn't want government interference in financial institutions, the most politically conservative business. As a result of deregulation or, in many cases minimal regulatory oversight, the twin catastrophes of the Wall Street credit-swap scandals and the mortgage crisis spun the nation into the deepest recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
But you don't hear the Republicans tell you that their loose regulation caused it; instead, they say high government salaries caused a run-away economy and that those need to be cut.
Prof. Joseph Slater, who teaches law at the University of Toledo, says because of the 2008 crisis, some states experienced massive budget shortfalls as growing unemployment decreased tax revenue.
The problem in the states and the federal government, Slater told the teacher's union newsletter NEA Today, isn't because of collective bargaining, but "because some of the worst state budget problems are in the small handful of states that prohibit public sector collective bargaining, states like Texas and North Carolina."
However, said Slater, in another article for the American Constitution Society, "states with strong public sector collective bargaining laws ... have smaller than average deficits."
In response to conservative calls to curtail "pension abuse" in the public sector, Slater pointed out that "the vast majority of states don't allow unions to bargain over public pension benefits," and that some of the worst pension problems are in the so-called right-to-work states that have no public employee unions. So are the some of the worst unemloyment rates, such as the 9.6 percent rate in South Carolina, where Gov. Nikki Haley, a GOP stalwart and Republican convention speaker, presides by blaming everything on the Obama Administration.
In contrast to the all-out assault on workers by Republicans, Govs. Dan Malloy of Connecticut and Jerry Brown of California, both Democrats, have been reducing budget deficits, sometimes with a heavy hand, as they slash programs and the number of workers, in consultation with the unions and without curtailing union rights. Unionized workers in both private and public sectors have taken temporary pay cuts or agreed to vacation days without pay. Few corporate executives - and no state legislators - have willingly matched the sacrifices of the workers.
Now, as for those conservatives who are dancing on what they think are the graves of the working-class labor movement; there's a few stories they aren't happily reporting:
Monday was Labor Day. It's more than just picnics and a three-day weekend. It's a time to honor the working class and the unions that gave them the rights of collective bargaining. They may be struggling, but they are far from dead.
AR Senior Correspondent Walter Brasch is a syndicated author of 18 books. His latest is the critically acclaimed novel of progressive journalism, Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution. He is also a proud member of two unions.