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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Union as a Positive Force

Unions are a positive force for good in American society.  They have been largely responsible for important initiatives that perhaps the ordinary citizen sometimes takes for granted.

Progressive reforms which unions have consistently advocated include safe working conditions, increasing the minimum wage (known also as the “living wage”), a limitation on hours, the elimination of sweatshops, employer paid health care in case of accident or injury, paid time off for maternity and profit sharing.  They also exist as a necessary reminder to an increasingly hostile management structure which otherwise would have little problem keeping for itself all the profits of labor’s sweat.

One of our national political parties (i.e. - Democrats) in our two-party system remains decidedly pro-union.  Those who seek reminder need merely reference the recent bailout of the Detroit auto industry in the midst of the Great Recession of 2008.  Roots trace to passage of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), one of the twin pillars of FDR’s New Deal social safety net, which delivered the right of every worker to join a union of his or her own choosing and the corresponding obligation of employers to bargain collectively with that union in good faith.

Through the idea of bargaining collectively, a union is able to obtain benefits for its workers which an individual worker would simply be unable to obtain for himself.  It’s what unions do.  It’s why they exist.  An ordinary citizen need look back no further than to see that life was not very pretty for the individual worker prior to collective bargaining.  And it’s why a majority of ordinary citizens seem to prefer a world which contains unions as opposed to one which does not.  With collective bargaining removed under the equation, also removed presumably under the new law is the state’s corresponding obligation to act and bargain reasonably and in good faith.

The other of our national political parties (i.e. - Republicans) seeks to do away with a union’s right to collective bargaining, the friend of the middle class for more than 75 years, especially in the public employee sector.  It does this under the facade of a smaller, “cuts only” government approach which exposes an underlying agenda to dismantle the social safety net.  Ironically, as one new component of the social safety net (the popular Obamacare) begins to take hold and gain traction, another (collective bargaining) stands to be eviscerated.  Most recently, Wisconsin became the 25th state to pass so called “right-to-work” legislation, achieving a half way point among the 50 states on rolling over once powerful union foes.

Of ominous note, while popular “individual” rights may have asserted themselves on the federal union shop floor, statistics show that wealth disparity between rich and poor has increased to a record level --- as union membership has decreased.  And so it may come as little surprise to some that income inequality has worsened at a time when union membership has fallen to levels not seen since the 1920s --- immediately preceding the Great Depression.

Bill Kraus, a moderate who worked on his first Wisconsin Republican U.S. Senate campaign in 1952 and later ran the campaign and office of GOP Gov. Lee Sherman Dreyfus, called the right-to-work shift the deepest change in state politics since Progressive leader “Fighting Bob” La Follette rose to prominence during the Progressive Era nearly a century ago.

Kraus describes himself now as a politically “homeless” man without the shelter of his former partisan affiliation. “A lot of settled things have become unsettled,” he said.  “It's very radical and the question we don't know is whether it's a reflection of a changed Wisconsin or a group in power that have misread their mandate and are more lucky and blessed than right.”

Blessed by whom?  The dark image is of the purchased politician, a Theodore Roosevelt hot button, whose advocacy reflects neither morality nor ethics but rather a symmetry with money flow and the oligarchs who empower him.  The blessing of a benign creator is merely self-serving --- but necessary --- propaganda.  “Blessed is he,” it is said by so called Republican Jesus, “who lets the market decide for him what is moral.”

Human welfare --- the constitutional delegation of federal power to the general welfare to promote sustainable capitalism and environmental stewardship in the pursuit of happiness --- be damned.

-Michael D’Angelo