Posted by: mutantpoodle | February 21, 2011

Again with the union-bashing

I’m late to the Wisconsin party – there have been events in my life and not much time to write. Here’s a link to the latest detail – Walker wants to allow the state to sell off  assets to the highest any damned bidder.

And just for the record, Wisconsin’s deficit has nothing to do with the public sector unions.

I’ve talked about unions before on this blog – particularly when the Writer’s Guild went on strike three years ago.

Before I revisit what I said then – which is, maddeningly, all too applicable now – I want to ask a simple question of the folks in the GOP who are rallying to Scott Walker’s defense:

You were all ready to take out your torches and pitchforks (or maybe something higher caliber) when it seemed possible that Barack Obama would let marginal tax rates for people earning over $250,000 a year increase by less than 4%. Now, say someone earning $300,000 faces this increase. S/he would have paid an additional $2,000 (actually less) in taxes under Obama’s plan – a 1.7% hit. Scott Walker’s plan will take 8% from people who make about $50,000 a year. How is that not government taking money from it’s citizens? How is that different from a regualr old tax increase?

Is it because you wouldn’t have to pay it?

But I digress. Here’s a bit of what I wrote in 2007, when a private sector union – the WGA – went on strike against the major studios.

It’s been 22 years since I was a card-carrying union member, but even though I am not one now, the folks on the line are my brothers and sisters. In a country which has tilted the balance of economic power to capital instead of labor, the WGA is making a stand for labor. And for those of you who read a Marxist tilt in these words, well, think what you like. But the engine that drove post-WWII American economic growth was the rise of the blue-collar middle class, which was able to pump a lot more into the U.S. economy than a few thousand millionaires ever could.

Digby notes, in her excellent take on all this, the following:

I was listening to the radio the other day and Paul Krugman was on taking calls. A woman on the show was bemoaning the fact that so many jobs were being outsourced and wondering how we could possibly compete in a global economy. Krugman relied, “One word. Unions.” He pointed out that all the other first world economies in Europe and Canada have a much higher rate of unionization that we do. The breaking of the unions in this country was obviously not essential for economic growth — it was done for political reasons to benefit the right wing and its corporate owners. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Unions and the solidarity it promotes are an important key to a progressive America, whether it’s the Writers Guild or the UAW or the janitors or the health care workers. They promote a strong and stable middle class — and help us see ourselves as one people with common interests.

For all that corporations rail against the excesses of unions, it is the financial security unions – public AND private – provide that enables middle class discretionary spending. Put another way, the thing anti-union corporatists forget is that their wealth is due, in no small part, to the economic benefits unions gained for their members, and, by extension, non-union employees who received similar benefits thanks to union negotiations.

I am not naive about the pitfalls of some public sector unions. They can, because they have political influence, work towards selecting the people with whom they bargain, creating excessive power on the labor side of the bargaining table. In my state, California, the influence of the California Prison Guards union can be destructive.

And yet the CCPOA did not hurl California into a $25 billion deficit. (I’d note that, in Wisconsin, the unions have accepted – onerous as they are – Walker’s economic takebacks. So the fight is really about the right of public sector unions to bargain collectively.) And one other thing: if I had to choose an entity to have outsized power, I’d much rather it be a union, public or private, as opposed to corporations. Even though the Supreme Court says they’re just persons, too.

One last union note. Lots of people like to say that it was the unions that took Detroit to the brink. About 30 seconds of thought should do that one in, but in case you don’t have the time, try this:

The unions were not the major reason why GM and Chrysler got into the position they got into. There are certainly issues around the labor situation, which I’ll discuss in a second, but to lay this all at the feet of the UAW, which I know some management teams have tried to do, is simply not fair. I’ll give you two data points. First, labor only accounts for only about 7 percent of the cost of a car. So, if you cut that to 6 percent, you’re going to make a bit more money, but this is not the biggest expense that an automaker has.

The second thing I would point out to you is that Ford was playing with exactly the same deck of cards. They had effectively the same UAW contract. They had effectively the same manufacturing footprint, up in the upper Midwest area. They had the same kind of dealer network issues that GM and Chrysler had. And yet while Ford certainly struggled for a while, they got through this and have been making good money for some time now.

So, what’s the difference between Ford and GM? I would argue the difference between Ford and GM is management. I don’t know what else to attribute it to. It’s one of the few cases where you actually have two examples that you can put side-by-side and it would be a very valid comparison.

Returning to Wisconsin, it’s clear it isn’t the teachers of Wisconsin who caused this mess after all. Maybe, just maybe, the tea party mantra is, in this case, correct.

It’s the government.

P.S. You can buy the protesters pizza here.

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