Sunday, October 21, 2012

Will Unions Save Us-- Or Even Themselves?


Right-wing anti-union fanatic Peter Roskam lucked out in the Illinois redistricting. His 6th CD, which gave Obama a 56-43% victory over McCain in 2008, has new boundaries (quite a bit further east and south) that would have narrowed Obama's win to 51-47%. So, of course, the DCCC packed its tent and fled in the night. (He's the House GOP's Chief Deputy Whip and if you read DWT you already know the DCCC head prohibits even thinking about going after Republican leaders.) Roskam has raised $2,943,395 and his lonely opponent, Leslie Coolidge, has only brought in $309,434. Union PACs have given Coolidge $10,000... but union PACs have given Roskam $45,000 (slightly more than the $42,000 they gave him in 2010, though not as much as they $55,100 they shelled out for him in 2008). So this year, along with the maxxed out contributions from the Koch Bros., JPMorgan Chase, Credit Suisse, AT &T, Goldman Sachs are all the rot-gut corporations funding a right-wing take-over, the Painters & Allied Trades Union maxxed out too, as did the Operating Engineers Union. [The Painters Union also maxxed out to Gambinio Crime Family-affiliated Michael "Mikey Suits" Grimm (R-NY), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Dave Reichert (R-WA) and Steve LaTourette (R-OH). The guys'n'gals in the Operating Engineers Union gave $10,000 or above pops to Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Rodney Alexander (R-LA), Lou Barletta (R-PA), Judy Biggert (R-IL), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Chip Cravaack (R-MN), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Robert Dold (R-IL), Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO), Jim Gerlach (R-PA), Chris Gibson (R-NY), Mikey Suits (R-NY), Richard Hanna (R-NY), Joe Heck (R-NV), Randy Hultgren (R-IL), Mike Kelly (R-PA), Peter King (R-NY), Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), Leonard Lance (R-NJ) and Steve LaTourette (R-OH).] Nor are they the only unions who max out to anti-union Republicans. Even the NEA, the teachers union, gave max donations to Mike Simpson (R-ID) and Judy Biggert (R-IL) this year-- as well as smaller amounts to other Republicans.

Now lets go back to Roskam. In his excellent book, The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy, Joshua Holland dug up a quote from Roskam explaining why he worked so hard to defeat the Employee Free Choice Act, once the #1 political priority for organized labor. "We need to preserve free-market enterprise. Businesses around the country need the flexibility to grow and change with their markets, and employees need the freedom to negotiate their hours and salaries with their employers. This bill would harm workers and businesses by changing the unionization process so drastically that the only ones who would benefit are the labor bosses."

I guess some "labor bosses" enjoyed hearing that enough to send their members' dues to his reelection campaign... over and over again. Holland went on to talk about why unions are important to working families-- if not to wealthy right-wing congressmen.
Conservatives argue that the number of Americans working in unions has plummeted because organized labor is anachronistic-- ghosts of industries past, relics of the Golden Age of manufacturing. Yet the truth is that labor’s decline is the result of a sophisticated, decades-long assault on workers’ right-- and practical ability-- to organize and on the legitimacy of labor unions more generally.

The motive is obvious: there’s nothing more terrifying to corporate America than the prospect of dealing with its workforce on an even playing field, and nothing more alarming for its allies on the Right than people who vote their own economic interests. Labor unions help accomplish both of those things.

The benefits that workers get from organizing go way beyond the union wage premium (but who among us couldn’t stand 11 percent more in our paychecks?). Union workers are also more likely to get retirement benefits, decent health care, and family leave and are less likely to work in unsafe conditions or otherwise get screwed over by their employers than are their nonunion counterparts. According to economists Lawrence Mishel and Matthew Walters, union members make almost 30 percent more when the wages and the value of benefits are combined.

Those are the tangibles, but there are intangibles as well. When enough workers are organized and can speak with one voice, they represent a powerful influence on the political establishment-- one that’s largely missing in the United States today. Inequality, stagnant wages, out-of-reach health-care costs, bad trade policy that hurts the middle class, dwindling opportunities to get an affordable high-quality education, and a host of other issues that have a real impact on most American families-- they’re all problems that a healthy labor movement can force politicians to address.

Union members are more likely to vote their economic interests than be blinded by culture war issues. In 2004, although George Bush won the votes of white working-class men by 25 percent over John Kerry, blue-collar white guys who belonged to unions broke for Kerry by 21 percent. Charles Noble, a political scientist at IC Long Beach, commented, “Clearly, union members had a different perspective on the election, most likely provided by the unions themselves, which poured millions into educating and mobilizing union households.” In 2008, John McCain beat Obama by 25 percent among all gun owners, but Obama won over union members who pack heat by a 12 percent margin. Guy Molyneux, a partner with Hart Research, which conducted exit polls for the AFL-CIO, told the New York Times that white male union members “supported Mr. Obama over Mr. McCain by a margin of 18 percentage points, while for all white men, exit polls found they backed Mr. McCain by a 16 percent margin.”

...[N]o country has seen such a precipitous decline in its labor movement as the United States has during the last three decades. We now have the lowest rate of workers covered by collective bargaining anywhere in the industrial world, and... the decline has correlated with painful economic stagnation for all but the top of the economic food chain... As economists Lawrence Mishel and Ross Eisenbrey wrote, “Wage inequality began to grow at the same time” that the decline in unionization gathered steam in the late 1970s.
Another book I just can't get enough of is Chris Hayes' Twilight of the Elites and Hayes talks about a 2005 paper by Princeton Political Scientist Larry Bartels, "Economic Inequality and Political Representation," that's worth looking at in light of the GOP War Against Unions. He looked at how senatorial voting records tracked with the positions of constituents in different parts of the income distribution.
"In almost every instance," Bartels found, "senators appear to be considerably more responsive to the opinions of affluent constituents than to the opinions of middle-class constituents than to the opinions of middle-class constituents, while the opinions of constituents in the bottom third of the income distribution have no apparent statistical effect on their senators' roll call voters."

...When recruiting candidates for the House of Representatives, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) looks for aspirants to raise so much money, so early-- $250,000 in the first quarter the candidate has declared-- that it's almost impossible to do without a massive personal or family bank account. "They'll say to you, you gotta be hitting 250," says one former congressional candidate. "And I was struggling to hit 100,000. You have to think out the actual economics of it. If you don't have a big bank account, then raising money has o be your full-time job," which means forfeiting your actual job and the income from that, "and if it's not going to be your full-time job, you better know a huge, huge number of rich people."

The results of this funneling process is clear in the composition of the country's least-trusted institution, the United States Congress: nearly half of all members of Congress have a net worth north of a million dollars, compared to just one in twenty-two households nationwide. Between 1984 and 2009, while the median net worth of American households remained essentially unchanged, the media net worth of members of the House of Representatives rose by 260 percent. Not only did the rich get richer, so did Congress.

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At 11:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's obvious the Romneys of the world believe the best company is the company with no employees at all -- just management and shareholders. Problems solved!

When Reagan pulled the trigger on the air traffic controllers' union, the obituaries could be written for the modern labor movement.

The losses of unionized manufacturing and blue collar jobs are bad enough.

The failure, however, to unionize the private white collar workplace has been fatal to the movement.

Corporate management was particularly clever in keeping unions out of the office workplace. White collar jobs came with a certain cachet, good benefits, perks, chances to advance up the corporate ladder, and the snobbery of clean hands -- at least in the workers' imaginations.

We learned to not complain about unpaid overtime that became increasingly compulsory. Or doing the job of two or three laid-off drones. When rumors came down about impending layoffs, nobody protested. No, everybody kept their heads down and prayed it was the stooge in the next cubby that got the axe.

Then there were the insufferable techies who never outgrew their late-night masturbation fantasies inspired by Ayn Rand's ravings. Oh yeah, the IT manly men strode the corridors sure that only sub-par dolts and fogies needed unions or labor laws because said dolts and fogies were last year's trash and totally disposable.

The IT studs, on the other hand, were indispensable, the guys calling the shots. They, by dint of their tech genius and digital puissance, had management by the balls. Every bloated salary they got was earned, by God! Until, that is, management informed them that their jobs, too, could be outsourced to India and the Indian consultants were flown in to be trained by the once-mighty.

The moral of the story is that the unions fucked up by concentrating their efforts on blue collar manufacturing jobs and government white collar and public service unions.

As the economy moved more and more to office and private sector service jobs, the unions were effectively shut out. They became protective of what they had, spent too much time fighting rear-guard actions and forgot to teach Americans why we had unions in the first place.

It's all very sad.


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