Union-Busting Is Theft -- a Weapon of Class Warfare from Above
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Union-busting gives employers the means to manipulate the labor market in order to squeeze out more profits by paying workers less than what a free and fair market would bear. It's wage theft of another kind – perfectly legal, but just as costly for working people.
As the drama playing out in Wisconsin shows, union-busting is not only a weapon in the class war being waged by the richest Americans – it's also a means of waging political war on Democrats and progressive organizations.
The War on Public Employees
Both sides in the battle raging in state capitols across the country agree on just one thing: we are witness to a defining showdown pitting union-busting conservatives against the last group of American workers that enjoys a high rate of union membership, and the economic security that comes with it.
As I noted last week, 37 percent of government workers belong to a union, compared with just 7 percent of private-sector employees. Last year, more working people belonged to a union in the public sector (7.9 million) than in the private (7.4 million), despite the fact that corporate America employs five times the number of wage-earners.
Economist John Schmitt explained that “as private-sector unionization rates fell ... the share of public-sector workers in a union held steady” and “public-sector unions played an important role in protecting their members against declines in health and pension benefits seen in the private sector.”
Meanwhile, the four-fifths of the U.S. workforce in the private sector got hammered. As the Economic Policy Institute has documented so well in its report, the State of Working America , private employers did not do the right thing on health, pensions or pay. Private-sector workers --and unions-- were too weak to resist the employer assault.
The decline in private sector unions dovetailed perfectly with the beginning of a long period of wage stagnation and benefit cuts for working people and a steep increase in corporate profits – today, the largest share of America's national income goes to profits and the smallest share to wages since the government started tracking those figures.
Union-busting As Political Warfare
In Wisconsin, public employees' unions have agreed to meet all of Republican governor Scott Walker's demands on wages and benefits, but he's dug in his heels and refused to negotiate a compromise. That's because the provisions the governor has spun as “emergency measures” to address this year's budget deficit would yield paltry savings in the near-term.
The real point is to defund and declaw his state's unions. As the New York Times put it, “In each case, Republican talk of balancing budgets is cover for the real purpose of gutting the political force of middle-class state workers, who are steady supporters of Democrats and pose a threat to a growing conservative agenda.”
Among other things, the bill requires a new union vote every year, and “prohibits covered employers from collecting union dues through salary deductions,” according to labor attorney Troy Thompson. The unions would have to collect dues directly from employees, and the measure “allows employees to stay in a union without paying union dues.”
Defunding the American labor movement is a huge goal for Walker's corporate sponsors. Contrary to right-wing spin, it's illegal for unions to use workers' dues for political purposes, but union PACs, which are funded by voluntary contributions from their members, help pay for not only the campaigns of politicians who are friendly to workers but also a number of progressive think-tanks and advocacy groups that have proven to be a thorn in the side of the Corporate Right. (Just one example among many is U.S. Chamber Watch, which has proven to be such an obstacle for the Chamber of Commerce that it explored launching a sleazy disinformation campaign to discredit the group.)