Friday, February 18, 2011

Is Wisconsin Labor's Waterloo?

I think Kevin Drum is right on the money here:
I won't pretend to be the world's most full-throated defender of public sector unions. If I could trade ten points of union density in the private sector for ten points in the public sector, I'd take the trade in a heartbeat. But that is, obviously, not the trade on offer. Nor is what's happening in Wisconsin merely hard bargaining during tough economic times. That would be understandable. Rather, it's an effort to destroy one of the few institutions left that fights relentlessly for the economic interests of the middle class. That's why conservatives oppose unions of all kinds, both public and private, and regardless of their faults, that's why they deserve our support.
Drum is echoing the ideas of Larry Bartels, recently expressed in his book Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age. The basic idea is that organized labor was for a few decades after 1940 able to counter the influence of the wealthy and big business in Washington DC. With the decline of labor since the 1970s, the working class (read: the middle class) has been steadily losing ground in political debates. A pro-business, pro-wealthy political environment, where both parties try to curry favor with the rich and big business, is the result. The American middle class have very few politically influential organizations in their corner these days. The American poor have none.

This is not to say that there is no difference between Republicans and Democrats. Democrats, as a whole, have been much more attentive to the interests of the non-wealthy and non-incorporated. But still, their support has eroded significantly since the 1970s.

All this is to say that what's happening in Wisconsin right now is REALLY REALLY IMPORTANT! This is the opening gambit in a coordinated Republican attack on public sector unions--the only unions that really have any political influence these days. The WI governor and his wealthy backers have ginned up a phony crisis that they are trying to exploit to cripple public sector unions. (Well, except those unions that occasionally support Republicans, like policemen and firemen.) It's pure power politics--it has nothing to do with the budget.

What can you do? I haven't the foggiest idea about what to do about Wisconsin. But watch for similar moves in your state, and fight them like hell.

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