Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Attacks on Unions (updated)

Union-busting Republican Scott Walker, Governor of Wisconsin, survived his recall election yesterday.  While the Democrats handled the campaign badly, a big part of his success must be seen as the antipathy towards unions, especially those affecting state employees.  Wisconsin isn't alone, as this has become a rallying cry of Republican governors nationwide.

In San Diego, a different union-busting measure passed, despite the likelihood of negative effects on the city.  Cutting off the nose to spite the face?
Proposition A, a measure that would ban San Diego from using labor-friendly development contracts on city-funded projects, passed by a wide margin Tuesday, which could put San Diego at risk of losing hundreds of millions of dollars in state funds....
Project-labor agreements outline standards for wages, local hiring and health care coverage for workers on a project, which critics say give an unfair advantage to union companies and workers. ...
On April 27, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that will likely lead to legal battles if the measure receives voter approval. The law denies state construction funds to cities that have a blanket ban on the agreements. 
In this recent must-read piece in the New Yorker, Nicholas Lehmann reviews several recent books on the subject of our economy and politics.

Public-employee pensions and employment contracts, which Tony Judt thinks of as a socially binding force, are now—from Athens to Madison, Wisconsin—the object of hostility by people who don’t have them and of fierce, to-the-barricades protectiveness by people who do. None of this bodes well for a politics aimed at alleviating inequality.
But WHY this antipathy to unions?    Unions are what give us 40 hour workweeks, job benefits, and decent wages.  Why do so many voters distrust them? Why have attacks on the working class (which is predominantly whom unions represent) become so entrenched?  Is it just resentment that some people have unions, while others have to fend for themselves?

As commented at America blog:
But the real winning argument for the "the politics of envy." Watch for it, even in the CNN-type coverage.

But it's not envy of the rich — that's not what "good peasants" do (to borrow from Matt Taibbi).

It's envy of the poor slob next to you, the one you closely resemble, who has the extra nickel you don't. His pension (on your dime, mind you) is that extra nickel.
Divide and conquer.  Fellow blogger David posted this quote on his facebook:
QotD: "I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half." --- Jay Gould (19th cent. railroad magnate and archetypal robber baron)
It appears the Koch brothers have taken it to heart.


Jim Pratt said...

One reason for antipathy toward unions, even from union members themselves, is the lack of responsiveness of the union leadership to the rank and file.

My spouse is a nurse. His former union went into contract negotiations with a lot of bluster and delaying tactics, against a union-busting government. They went on strike for 2 months, and were legislated back to work with a package equal to the government's last offer. By this time, they were 2 years into the new contract term, and it took another 4 months before the members got the retro pay.

His current union rolled over at the last negotiation and took a 0.5% per year increase with only minimal concessions from management on conditions and benefits. The union, however, increased dues by 2%. When he had a problem with his manager last year, the union was of absolutely no help (the steward for his unit is one of the supervisors, and the floor manager is also a member of the union).

So he is very cynical of the unions, and I'm sure there are many more like him.

Anonymous said...

The unions have been successful enough that a lot of what they did (wages, hours, workplace safety, etc) is now governmed by the Labor Code and enforced by the Labor Commissioner. The role of the union in that process is much reduced from the days of Sinclair Lewis.

The challenge with public sector unions specifically is the inherent conflict of interest between negotiating with the people you got elected (at the expense of all of us). Which side of the table are you on? If the answer is "both" that leads to problems, like we've seen in San Diego, with large parts of the city budget devoted to (un- or under-funded) benefits. A classic example of this point is recent Tri-City Hospital District, where the nurses union didn't like the contract offer and ran candidates (which won) for the publicly elected board they are now negotiating with. That's a conflict of interest in my book.


JCF said...

It's frogs in a pot. You envy the few frogs close to getting out, and pull them back down.

God forbid getting together to knock over the pot, and go after the (1%) guy cooking us frogs!

The 99% organize, they fight, they get beaten, they get exhausted.

The 1% go on, uncaring, unfatigued, unceasingly. [And restrict voting a bit more each time while they're at it]

The United States will become a Third World country soon, if we aren't already.

Counterlight said...

Maybe the answer to envy of public sector unions is private sector unions. Only problem is that Reagan era labor laws make organizing workplaces almost impossible, and squashing existing unions so very easy.

dr.primrose said...

Because after the Citizens United case, the only group other than corporations that have a lot of money to spend on political campaigns are unions. Once you get rid of the unions, politicians will be bought corporations like salami. And there will be no other bidders. It has been reported that the Koch brothers have already spent $400 million during this election cycle alone. Democracy in America is under signficant threat. It's really depressing.

Counterlight said...

I second Dr. Primrose's comment.

What's needed is public financing of campaigns and a constitutional amendment to undo the Citizens United decision, neither of which I expect any time soon.

Another reason why wages have remained flat for the last 30 years and their purchasing power is declining, and for the growing tendency of employers to think of their workers as chattel who are lucky to be working at all, is the decline of unions and union membership.

Organizing workplaces and taking any kind of union activity short of a strike is perfectly legal in all other developed countries, but illegal in the USA.

Folks, if you really want better wages and working conditions, you're just going to have to fight for it, even if it means jail time. That's what your great grandparents did, and now you will have to do the same thing all over again.

Collective bargaining is included in the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights. That commie bastid Adam Smith recognized that workers have a right to collectively bargain with employers.

IT said...

What there needs to be is a balance.

Andrewdb is right that they are abuses; San Diego's pension disaster which we still haven't climbed out of, was a result of shameless and irresponsble pandering to the unions, and California's politics are ill-served by the huge prison guards' union that never saw a new prison building or an arbitrary sentencing plan they didn't like.

But that doesn't mean throw out the baby with the bathwater. Unions are about the only way to balance the monstrous influence of corporate dollars that, as counterlight ways, have turned American workers into disposable chattel.

In the quest for the almighty dollar and short-term Wall Street gains, we seem to have lost any sense of the social compact that should link bosses and laborers.

As I keep harping, there's more to profit than money, and employment, loyalty, and mutual respect should count towards corporate success.