Why All the Union-Bashing?

A nice person wouldn’t kick a man when he’s out of town. Not me.

The argument about teachers’ unions and collective bargaining is too intriguing and too important especially since the right-wing crowd of Libertarians and standard Republicans have suddenly made public school teachers and other public workers the sudden targets of their drive-by shootings.

This, of course, is driven by the rising conservative tide that washes in on cue. The GOP and Tea Party types did well in midterm elections. Swept in with the tide was Scott Walker who is making Wisconsin’s legislature a major focal point of the union-bashing movement. None other than out own esteemed Jim Bacon, feet in the Hawaiian surf and sipping a Mai Tai as we speak, predictably piled on and blamed public unions for bad teachers — which is a stretch in any human mind.

So, I was interested in a piece by Yale’s Jacon S. Hacker and University of California at Bekerely’s Paul Pierson’s reasoned analysis in this Sunday’s Washington Post.

They review the union movement and note that not that long ago, it was considered a useful and positive contributor to the Ameican way of life. “Unions have a secure place in our industrial life,” Dwight Eisenhower declared in 1954.

Since then, unions have declined dramatically to about 7 percent of the general working population, the authors note. Even in the public sector the ratio is 1 in 10. In Virginia, it is zero, since Virginia has banned collective bargaining for public employees after a 1977 copurt ruling. Only two other states do the same — North Carolina and Texas. Like Virginia, they are Southern union head-busters who strove to keep unions out so they could steal industries like textiles from other areas and to hell with the average worker.

So why the big public union bashing? No matter what the Bacons of the world would have you sizzle, public unions are not a major cause of states’ financial woes. Nor are public service workers overpaid relative to private workers, the authors say.

What has happened is that somewhere between 1954 and today, unions shrunk while the paychecks of CEOs grew exponentially and Wall Street cheered. Somewhere, somehow, someone (The Koch brothers?) wants to put an end to unions once and for all. They’re using the midterm election upswell and the budget deficit hysteria to do so.

Is this healthy? No, it isn’t. The authors write: “Decades of research have shown that the economic pyramid is flatter in countries where unions are stronger. In economies as different as Canada and Germany, a sturdy union presence has helped reduce income inequality. The reason isn’t just that unions defend their members. They create changes in social norms, such as pressures for nonunion employers to match union gains.”

In America, unfortunately, we’d rather see someone like Angelo Mozilo, former head of defunct subprime lender Countrywide Financial, rake in millions than help the common man and woman.

Globalization as trend of the last three decades is also rsponsible. Supposedly savvy thinkers moralized that layoffs and salary cuts for U.S. workers were just fine because it was just natural that those jobs went to cheaper workers in poorer countries. Funny, the people who cite this tend drive periwinkle blue Mercedes convertibles.

Maybe this helps explain the union bashing. It sure isn’t because that powerful unions cover for lousy teachers. The issue is much, much bigger than that lame red hering.

Peter Galuszka


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