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Union-Busting Is Theft -- a Weapon of Class Warfare from Above

Union-busting allows bosses to rig the labor market in their favor.

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But unions do more than that to advance a pro-middle-class agenda. They also educate workers and, as a result, 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.”

Similarly, 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.”

Market Failure

In economic terms, the wages of many Americans working in the private sector represent a "market failure" of massive proportions. Even the most devout of free-marketeers -- economists like Alan Greenspan and the late Milton Friedman -- agree that it's appropriate and necessary for government to intervene in the case of those failures (they believe it's the only time such "meddling" is appropriate). But the corporate Right, which claims to have an almost religious reverence for the power of "free" and functional markets, has gotten fat off of this particular market failure, and it's dead-set on continuing to game the system for its own enrichment.

The market does work pretty well for Americans with advanced degrees or specialized skills that allow them to command an income that's as high as the market for their scarce talents will bear. There are also people with more common skills who have the scratch (and/or connections) and fortitude to establish their own businesses -- think George W. Bush or a really great mechanic who owns his or her own shop.

But that leaves a lot of people; about 80 percent of working America are hourly workers, "wage slaves" in the traditional sense. There's no doubt that their salaries are heavily influenced by the laws of supply and demand. We saw that clearly in the latter half of the 1990s, when, under Bill Clinton, the Fed allowed the economy to grow at a fast clip, unemployment dropped below 4 percent, and for a brief period, a three-decade spiral in inequality was reversed as wages grew for people in every income bracket.

But a common fallacy is that wages are determined by market forces. They're not, for a variety of reasons that require more explanation than space permits. I'll focus on two: what economists call "information asymmetries" and coercion. Both are anathema to a functional free market, and both exist today, in abundance, in the American workplace.

To understand these failures of the free market, one has to go back, briefly, to basic economic theory. In order for a free market transaction to work, both the buyer and the seller need to have a good grasp of what the product being sold -- in this case, people's sweat -- is worth elsewhere, who else is buying and selling, etc. In other words, they have to have more or less equal access to information. There can be no misrepresentation by either the buyer or the seller in a free market transaction. And both parties have to enter into the transaction freely, without being coerced; neither side can exercise power or undue influence over the other, whether implicitly or explicitly, through threats or other means.

 
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