Taughannock Falls

Taughannock Falls
from: althouse.blogspot.com

Monday, February 28, 2011

Why bust the unions?

I have found over the last couple of weeks an interesting shift in the type of discussions I'm having with people. My blue collar friends, not all of whom have ever belonged to a union, have no problem understanding precisely why the Wisconsin situation is so important. These are the same people who have to be dragged kicking and screaming to a place where they can appreciate the need for marriage equality. My white collar friends, most of whom have had very little experience with unions, are people who sign all the same progressive petitions I do, and normally need little explanation to see the larger significance of an issue. Yet many of these educated folks are a bit puzzled by all the fuss in Madison. They're pleased to see folks standing up to right wing power. The specific concern over collective bargaining rights, however, is lost in larger statements about how teachers are underpaid, and everyone deserves a good health plan. They're upset with lawmakers and taxpayers for being stingy with public servants, but not so much for threatening their unions. Union-busting seems to them almost anachronistic, a holdover from pre-WWII America.

Paul Krugman speaks
to these sympathetic white collar brothers and sisters when he poses this question:

Why bust the unions? As I said, it has nothing to do with helping Wisconsin deal with its current fiscal crisis. Nor is it likely to help the state’s budget prospects even in the long run: contrary to what you may have heard, public-sector workers in Wisconsin and elsewhere are paid somewhat less than private-sector workers with comparable qualifications, so there’s not much room for further pay squeezes.

So 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.

You don’t have to love unions, you don’t have to believe that their policy positions are always right, to recognize that they’re among the few influential players in our political system representing the interests of middle- and working-class Americans, as opposed to the wealthy. Indeed, if America has become more oligarchic and less democratic over the last 30 years — which it has — that’s to an important extent due to the decline of private-sector unions.

And now Mr. Walker and his backers are trying to get rid of public-sector unions, too.

There’s a bitter irony here. The fiscal crisis in Wisconsin, as in other states, was largely caused by the increasing power of America’s oligarchy. After all, it was superwealthy players, not the general public, who pushed for financial deregulation and thereby set the stage for the economic crisis of 2008-9, a crisis whose aftermath is the main reason for the current budget crunch. And now the political right is trying to exploit that very crisis, using it to remove one of the few remaining checks on oligarchic influence.

So will the attack on unions succeed? I don’t know. But anyone who cares about retaining government of the people by the people should hope that it doesn’t.


Cletis L. Stump said...

Ulysses, I believe, more and more, people value the most, things which are important to them while they are relatively young. Feelings of generalized justice do not evoke the passion feelings related to specific interests or concerns evoke. That's not an earth shattering insight but I believe it explains your friends to a degree. Krugman is right about power. I'm okay you're okay doesn't cut it for men like Walker. He doesn't have a philosophical thought in his soul, if he has a soul. He can only feel good by diminishing others. Think Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, O'Reilly et al. Love Monty Python.

tbelwin68 said...

Krugman is way cool. Yet I prefer your term "plutocratic" over his "oligarchic." lol