US Catholic Faith in Real Life

You can't scare me, I'm sticking to the union

By Kevin Clarke | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Some dangerous and erroneous presumptions are being circulated with jaw-dropping chutzpah, following the classic big lie pattern (concoct the big lie, say the big lie, repeat and repeat and repeat as necessary) and finding their way into accepted wisdom. One is that we can emerge from our current economic malaise and defeat persistent unemployment by engaging in a shock-treatment austerity plan aimed at sharply reducing our deficit; the second is that public sector unions are the reason for the collapse of state budgets across the country.

Hooey to both. If we continue along the austerity path proposed by the newly Republicanized 112th Congress, we are likely to follow austerity afflicted England, Ireland and Germany into the economic doldrums or worse. We may be happy to escape with only one lost decade instead of two. What the economy still needs in a period of a continuing contraction of spending by consumers and private industry is government spending. Yes, that means maintaining the nosebleed level deficit’s we’ve seen in the last few years, but a prolonged recession or outright depression would be worse than a few more years of deficit spending (and let’s remember that we are in this deficit situation partly because the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 turned a federal budget that was on the path to years of surpluses into a decade or so of deficits, deficit spending that somehow only became alarming when a Democrat was forced to continue and enlarge them in a time of acute economic crisis).

Regarding public sector unions: I said months ago that union-haters were laying in wait to use the current economic crisis, which has been felt most keenly at the state level where massive tax revenue drops have resulted from slower consumer spending and lost income because of the recession, to beat down what small fragment remained of organized labor in America. In the private sector less than 6.9 percent of workers are now unionized. Just over 32 percent of public sector workers are unionized; total union membership is now down to 11.9 percent of the U.S. workforce, down from 12.3 percent just a year ago. Union rolls have been in a steady decline since the 1970s and even at this moribund level they are STILL being blamed for all that ails the economy even as Wall Street bankers and assorted hucksters continue a bonus banner year with taxpayer bailout cash. WTWhat?

Gov. Walker has concocted this fight to provoke a final conflict and bludgeon to death what’s left of unionism in America. His timing can't be beat because the propaganda mill generated by anti-union industrialists like the Koch brothers—who apparently directly give marching orders to the Governor albeit in prankster format—have managed to turn private sector workers against their public sector brothers and sisters with a series of fabrications and half truths about public worker’s benefits and salaries. They can’t be allowed to get away with this and not only because it could possibly mean the end of organized labor in America. The wages, working conditions and benefits that unions struggle for and achieve trickle down to all employees, unionized or not. The breaking of unions hurts not just organized labor but all of us employees who can thank unions for eight hour days, the freaking 40-hour workweek, sick leave policies, lunch-hours, weekends off, overtime pay, minimum wage, safe working conditions, the list goes on.

We are slowly watching these hard-won, previous commonplaces of the U.S. working life being given up as capital becomes more ruthless because unions no longer stand in its way. When was the middle-class at its strongest and the distribution of wealth in America at its most equitable? When unions represented 36 percent plus of the U.S. workforce, their peak in 1954. Hmm, that’s also when we had 24 marginal brackets and rates ranging from 20 to 91 percent. Now we can’t get the richest Americans to pay the 39 percent top rate they paid the last time the federal budget was in surplus when Democrat Bill Clinton was president, and at a time when the wealthiest five percent has claimed the largest percentage of our national wealth in history, we’re talking about laying off teachers, miscellaneous state workers and taking a hatchet to the 12 percent of the federal budget that includes the meager social services (compared to other OECD member states) the federal government does provide. Does any of this make sense?

Read more on this topic:

The Republican Shakedown

Why Budget Cuts Don't Bring Prosperity