Monday, February 28, 2011

Why The Fight For Unions Matters

A couple of great articles today about the fight in Wisconsin and the broader implications.

Ezra Klein at Newsweek discussions the importance of unions in general terms:
But unions still have a crucial role to play in America. First, they give workers a voice within—and, when necessary, leverage against—their employer. That means higher wages, but it also means that workers can go to their managers with safety concerns or ideas to improve efficiency and know that they’ll not only get a hearing, they’ll be protected from possible reprisals. Second, unions are a powerful, sophisticated player concerned with more than just the next quarter’s profit reports—what economist John Kenneth Galbraith called a “countervailing power” in an economy dominated by large corporations. They participate in shareholder meetings, where they’re focused on things like job quality and resisting outsourcing. They push back on business models that they don’t consider sustainable for their workers or, increasingly, for the environment. In an economy with a tendency toward bigness—where big producers are negotiating with big retailers and big distributors—workers need a big advocate of their own. Finally, unions bring some semblance of balance to the political system. A lot of what happens in politics is, unfortunately, the result of moneyed, organized interests who lobby strategically and patiently to get their way. Most of that money is coming from various business interests. One of the few lobbies pushing for the other side is organized labor—and it plays a strikingly broad role. The Civil Rights Act, the weekend, and the Affordable Care Act are all examples of organized labor fighting for laws that benefited not just the unionized. That’s money and political capital it could’ve spent on reforming the nation’s labor laws.
And he ends with a great kicker:
But to paraphrase Tolstoy’s insight about families, all institutions are broken in their own unique ways. Corporations and governments have their flaws, too. Like labor, they’re necessary participants in a balanced economy. A world without organized labor is a world where workers have less voice and corporations are even more dominant and unchecked across both the economy and the political system. That isn’t healthy—not for workers and, in the long run, not even for corporations. But to change it, labor has to do more than cheat death. It has to find a new lease on life nationally.
E.J. Dionne Jr at the Washington Post talks about Wisconsin specifically
"The game goes like this," according to one pro-union political consultant I spoke with. "Destroy private-sector unions, reduce private-sector health and retirement benefits, then say 'Hey, how come those public employees get such [relatively] good benefits? That's not fair.' " He scoffed at those now insisting that they like private but not public-sector unions: "Private-sector unions are only 'okay' once they are completely emasculated."
How do we know this is about power, not budgets? Even as they go after the unions, Walker and his Republican allies in the legislature are also trying to change the makeup of future Wisconsin electorates in their favor. They are pushing to end same-day voter registration (which currently empowers younger voters, who are more liberal than their elders and move around more) and to pass onerous voter ID laws that would especially burden those with lower incomes.

Last week Walker signed into law a bill that will require a two-thirds supermajority in the legislature, or a statewide referendum, to raise income, sales or corporate franchise taxes. Imagine if President Obama had insisted that a two-thirds majority be required to repeal his health-care law? This is an anti-democratic effort to lock in the policies of what could prove to be a temporary conservative majority.
h/t to Greg Sargent for an excellent roundup of analyses.

1 comment:

  1. Public union members are just getting a bad rap because they're misunderstood. They should start a national ad campaign involving their members singing about looking for the union label. Public employees are taxpayers and in WI they gave up the right to strike in order to insure pension and medical benefits. For the past ten years they have foregone raises to maintain those benefits. Yet still they are willing to accept the cuts.