Class Warfare Blog

December 6, 2011

Why Do Republicans Hate Labor?

Filed under: Economics,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 8:41 am
Tags: , , ,

I have written on this topic before, essentially referring back to The New Deal and Republican’s hatred of it and all it stands for, and support for labor was a keystone of the New Deal. But I don’t think the “truth” can be captured in a bottle and nailed down on a page or in a single book. My thinking continues.

One of the effects of President’s Reagan’s deal to lower the highest federal marginal tax rate from 70% on highest earnings down below 40% is that the now infamous “1%” of the country is no longer just old money and is now heavily larded with corporate types. Think of old school Republicans and you come up with a mix, certainly war heroes, but also quite a few scions of old money. (Think Kennedys and Rockefellers.) Modern Republicans are more corporate. (Think Tom Delay (pest exterminator) and Mitt Romney (leveraged takeover specialist).)

Interestingly in modern corporate management circles, at least those on the creative leading edge, many are advocating more worker freedom, more control of workers over their own workplaces, and other “perks” that encourage creative workers to stay with their corporation. These conditions are also necessary for the creativity needed in fast paced marketplaces. These are the methods of the management teams at Google, eBay, Apple, Zappos, etc. This is in stark contrast to old school management which considered labor to be shiftless and lazy, that if their workplace were not highly regulated and regimented and supervised, the workers would slack off and be unproductive.

And, as one observes the reality of the situation, as businesses transition to more worker-led workplaces, worker productivity continues to climb. Less regulated, less regimented, and less supervised workplaces are becoming more and more and more productive.

So, why are Republicans taking cheap shots at labor (If you are poor, blame yourself. Shut up and get a job!) and trying to disempower labor unions? I think you can trace much of it to two causes. The business types attracted to Republican leadership are the low hanging fruit, so to speak. (Think Herman Cain and Mitt Romney.) These are not cutting edge business executives who see labor as the source of their wealth. And, the key constituency of the Republican electorate are white, male working class people, precisely the people who have been treated as being untrustworthy by their employers for decades, but since they have been hard-working and honorable, it is easy for them to think “those other people” are shiftless and lazy and looking for a handout. Republican presidential candidates cater to this audience (among others, of course).

Blaming the working poor for their own state is a common political tactic. It will only stop working when people wake up and recognize it for the pandering it is. American workers are by far the most productive on the planet as many businesses are finding out the hard way. When they shift jobs overseas, they get a stock price bump because analysts tell investors that this is “a good thing.” But China’s workers wages are approaching 60% of ours and when you add the shipping costs and the lower productivity in, the gains are not as big as corporate executives expected. Companies are starting to invest in American labor and will be benefiting accordingly. Those that do not will pay a price. The price currently being paid is based on the fact that 70% of our entire economy is internal and since so many workers are out of work or have taking lower paying jobs in desperation, there isn’t enough domestic demand for goods and services to pull out of the hole left by the Great Recession. Unfortunately corporati0ns are taking the opportunity to depress wages and other labor costs and are raking in record profits, which leads me to the topic of the morality of commerce, my next topic.


  1. It’s a good question. I still haven’t figured out the answer.


    Comment by Dave — December 6, 2011 @ 12:46 pm | Reply

  2. Republicans hate labor because of labor unions. Vilifying labor unions as essentially and necessarily corrupt as well as lazy is a key element of the Republican playbook regardless of whether the charge is true in any specific case. The Republican base has been whipped into a frenzy on the basis of the bugbears of socialism and communism. Many Republicans believe that painting their political opponents as not merely “liberal” but as “socialists” it will secure them votes. My classrooms *always* contain at least one or two people who seem programmed by right wing talk radio. They are ever ready to denounce the enemies they’ve been trained to hate using terms they scarcely understand. It becomes cyclical. The base is rabidly anti-labor and so only anti-labor candidates can thrive.


    Comment by Peter Walsh — December 9, 2011 @ 11:31 pm | Reply

    • Hi, Peter,

      Re “Republicans hate labor because of labor unions.” I think it goes deeper than this as there is a bit of class snobbery thrown in. “Men of business” were considered “the merchant class” by old money men and were characterized as money grubbing, grasping, and social climbers. They certainly were not considered part of the elite of society (polite society, that is). As businessmen took over as “the rich” from the “old money rich” they took on first the mantle of the nouveau riche and final the mores of the old money rich, who considered working people, well, servants. While this is oversimplified I think there is some truth in it. And I think there is something like disdain toward anyone or any institution that would get in their way of making money (see today’s blog).


      Steve Ruis


      Comment by stephenpruis — December 10, 2011 @ 8:34 am | Reply

  3. Steve,

    I would certainly agree with you in the case of the millionare Republican officeholders, but what puzzles me is the attitude of the Republican rank-and-file. I have encountered people of very meagre means who seem to strike the attitude that labor unions are the worst thing to ever happen in this country. I have people attempting to lecture me on the socialism of the New Deal, or the Civil Rights movement or the Obama administration, without having the first clue about what socialism actually is. How have the Republicans so cozened people in the lower part of the income scale? Why are so many “conservatives” eager to act against their own economic self-interest in service of some tissue thin campaign of disinformation?



    Comment by Peter Walsh — December 11, 2011 @ 8:55 pm | Reply

    • This is the great puzzle! I had a negative attitude toward unions until I needed the help of my own and found out that the “union” was us workers helping one another. Corporate types have all kinds of organizations used to leverage their authority, power, etc. but the one’s workers have are anathema to them. I think the steady drumbeat of propaganda by conservatives against unions has had a cumulative effect. It is the only reason I can come up with. Unions, also, haven’t done a good job of getting their story out. For years unions have tried to get labor history included in school curricula to no end. Similarly, other attempts to explain what unions do have been unsuccessful.




      Comment by stephenpruis — December 12, 2011 @ 8:52 am | Reply

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