Don’t Look for the Union Label in Tomorrow’s America
America’s workers will live to regret it but they’ve shown how they feel. By a substantial margin, they’ve rejected the idea of unionization. I can interpret the failure of yesterday’s attempt to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker in no other way. The people of Wisconsin have turned their backs on the unions. And I am convinced that they reflect the prevailing sentiment in the rest of America.
This is not a sudden phenomenon. Union membership has declined dramatically in America over the past generation. And there has long been an undercurrent of resentment toward unionized public employees. I’ve noticed it in letters to the editor complaining about two road workers leaning on their shovels watching a third dig a hole, and in TV features about teachers with tenure committing outrageous abuses and keeping their jobs, and so on.
And I remember when I was doing a series for the Toronto Telegram on the economic recovery in the UK in the 1960s, how ship builders complained about the unions. They said that a riveter dared not pick up a piece of sheet metal without precipitating a strike, and vice versa. They blamed such restrictive union policies for driving away Britain’s shipbuilding industry.
And I have seen how bumptious public employes can get when they have a little authority.
Human beings “take advantage.” That’s how it is, and we just have to get used to it.
But we don’t have to like it. And the majority of voters in Wisconsin obviously don’t like it.
They opted for Scott Walker, a scalawag if ever there was one, over the teachers, law enforcement officers, firefighters, public works employees and the rest of their fellow-citizens on the public payroll.
Now, I fear, the flood gates will open. Emboldened Republican legislatures across America will emulate Walker’s oppressive policies. Public unions will be decimated.
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow warns that as the unions die, so will the Democratic Party. She argues that unions are the prime source of funding for Democratic campaigns. By routing the unions, the Republicans will leave their Democratic opponents without campaign funds.
While there’s more to a campaign than cash, it seems that cash counts most. Walker outspent his opponent in Wisconsin by something like eight to one – $30 million to $4 million, and there’s no doubt that his ads helped him keep his job.
Voters seem to be fatally susceptible to campaign commercials. And, with the unions out of the picture, the corporations will dominate the airwaves.
So say goodbye to the union label.
It brought us the 40-hour work week, paid sick leave, overtime pay, arbitration for management abuses – all the benefits Americans have come to take for granted. It was the driving force in the development of an American middle class.
And I bet it won’t be long before things go back to the way they were before the unions. (To refresh your memory, check out movies like “The Molly Maguires” and “Norma Rae.”)
I might not live to see it, but I am sure that some of the Americans who voted to keep Scott Walker and his union busting policies will. They or their children will be back in the sweat shops, back in the deadly mine shafts, back in the dog-eat-dog world that Republicans are striving so hard to revive.
It’s the price Americans will pay for globalization. Especially now that they’ve thrown the unions under the bus.