Uncommon Sense

December 18, 2012

The “Decline” of Unions, You Say?

Pundits have finally been starting to talk about the squeeze on the middle class and one of the causes of 40 years of flat wages (even with continuing productivity increases), they say, is the “decline of labor unions.” Decline, my ass! The term they are looking for is “the suppression of labor unions.”

Forty years ago, or so, a number of über-conservative billionaires (Joseph Coors, the Koch brother’s daddy, etc.) founded a number of conservative think tanks (the Heritage Institute, the Cato Institute, etc.). The job was to create the weapons needed to effect their agenda. Their agenda was basically to roll back the New Deal, so, while Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon supported the safety social net (Nixon even suggested a negative income tax), the Republicans after that point took a turn to the right, a hard turn. The tools to cause this were provided by these “think tanks.” The goals were coalesced by the now infamous “Powell Memo” which included taking control of the media and suppression of labor unions.

“Decline, my ass! The term they are looking for is ‘the suppression of labor unions.’”

Remember the vilified “liberal bias” of the media? It never existed. That meme was created to effect a different sort of situation. Under Ronald Reagan, the fairness doctrine was eliminated and soon the corporate takeover of the media began in earnest. The “media” today has a substantial conservative bias (e.g. Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, and their ilk couldn’t have existed before and can’t today . . . in Canada) and is almost entirely corporatist (being owned mostly by just six corporations).

Labor unions struggled and struggled through the early 20th Century and during the New Deal finally got legal standing that put them on par with employers. Think about it. In a public corporation, at the top is a Board of Trustees which represents the interests of the shareholders. Below the Board is an executive function that executes the will of the Board, then below the execs are the worker bees who take orders and are hired and fired by the execs. This is normal business organization. (Of course, the CEO’s hand pick the Board members to do their bidding rather than the stockholders, but that’s another topic.) A union is a group of workers that is organized similarly. The workers, like the shareholders in the corporation, elect Board members (the Union Board) to represent their interests. The Union Board may hire professional negotiators to work with the CEOs, etc. A perfectly equivalent organization. The bosses say “do this work this way” and the workers say “I will, but you have to pay me.” The two sides are equal. Workers supply their labor, the business pays their salaries, enough extra money is made (beyond what is needed to  just run/grow the business) to share with shareholders.

So, why is there so much antagonism toward unions, groups of people who work to protect the rights of working people, even amongst working people? Read the Powell memo. It is all laid out there. Controlling the media controls the message, and the message was “unions were bad.” The people got the message and politicians got the message. The “decline” of unions is due to government suppression of the activities of unions. Just as unions secured new rights under the New Deal, they have lost most of those rights under subsequent administrations.

So, for forty years unions have been suppressed and as they declined, so did real wages for middle class people. It is that simple, folks.

This did not happen in Canada. Canada still has the roughly 35% of jobs being union jobs as we did 40 years ago, and class warfare in Canada has been far smaller and the middle class has suffered far less.

It is not effing decline; it is suppression. Use the right damned words!

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