Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sticking to the unions - instead of sticking it TO them

Back in the days circa 1969 when the favorite images of today's "culture war" were being formed, conservatives like to paint "hippies" (which they defined pretty broadly) as enemies of the working people, unions included. The role of the latter in the phony culture war paradigm was to beat the hippies over the head for being unpatriotic or sissy or whatever.

It was always 99% nonsense. And that's being generous to the conservative "culture warriors." But it's more obvious than ever today that it the Tea Party culture warriors who are cheering joining Wisconsin's Republican Gov. Scott Walker (boo, hiss) in trying to bust public employees unions. And in the anti-union neoliberal era in which we're living, defending union and labor rights marks you right off as a dirty freaking hippie (DFH, for short). Like Nobel laureate Paul Krugman in Wisconsin Power Play New York Times 02/20/2011:

... it's not about the budget; it’s about the power.

In principle, every American citizen has an equal say in our political process. In practice, of course, some of us are more equal than others. Billionaires can field armies of lobbyists; they can finance think tanks that put the desired spin on policy issues; they can funnel cash to politicians with sympathetic views (as the Koch brothers did in the case of Mr. Walker). On paper, we're a one-person-one-vote nation; in reality, we're more than a bit of an oligarchy, in which a handful of wealthy people dominate.

Given this reality, it's important to have institutions that can act as counterweights to the power of big money. And unions are among the most important of these institutions.
Yep, that pretty much sums it up. For an idea of how unions, which John Kenneth Galbraith in the immediate post-Second World War years could once accurately call a "countervailing power" to corporations, have fared in the three-decade heyday of neoliberalism in the US, see Harold Meyerson, Business Is Booming The American Prospect (01/28/2011; Mar 2011 issue):

... in 1981-1982, workers in the private sector, roughly 25 percent of whom belonged to unions compared to just 7 percent today, had more power to defend their pay levels than they do now. The same goes for health-care costs. According to a September survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust, employee insurance premiums rose by 13.7 percent in the preceding year, while employer contributions dropped by 0.9 percent. Employers have been free to impose the costs of the recession and the costs of doing business on their workers -- and keep all the proceeds for themselves.
Neoliberal policies of deregulation and pro-corporate, anti-union international trade agreements have been largely responsible for this decline. The Republicans in Wisconsin what their Party always tries to do: bust union, drive down wages, make the wealthy wealthier and everyone else more poor.

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