While budget deficits are a real problem at each level of government across the country, trying to balance budgets on the back of labor unions is nothing but a misguided adventure. If successful, the efforts may forever change America’s economic landscape for the worse.
It takes no genius to know that many Republicans despise organized unions for their loyalty to the Democratic Party, and many Republicans would do anything to curtail their power, despite the fact that union money pales in comparison to the money the GOP receives from corporate America.
Regardless of intent, it’s very clear that as much as the public wants a balanced budget, they don’t want organized unions to go out of business, nor do they support only a cost-cutting approach to achieve budgetary balance.
The recent Wisconsin recall election, in which labor unions were able to unseat two anti-union state representatives, is evidence in favor of such an argument.
It’s no coincidence that three anti-union crusaders, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Ohio Gov. John Casich and Florida Gov. Rick Scott, are in hot water with their constituents. According to several recent polling results, if elections were today, all three would lose their seats.
In fact, in Ohio, out of fear of losing the proposed pro-union ballot measure, Casich has changed his tune and now has asked state Democratic senators not to proceed with the proposed referendum, in return for softening his stand against unions.
The American public understands that balancing the budget is important for the long-term interest of the country and that some of the rules regarding state employee unions may have to be readjusted to give flexibility to state governments. However, it’s hard to imagine that the public will ever accept the wholesale demise of unions, which essentially brought fairness to the working environment and, in the process, help fueled the country’s capitalistic engine.
The end of child labor, which put kids in the classroom where they belong; establishment of the eight-hour work day; health care insurance; paid sick leave; family medical leave law; unemployment insurance; and workplace safety are only some of the many benefits enjoyed by all working Americans — including right-wing Republicans — for which we have unions to thank.
Partly because of the shrinking manufacturing base and due to the relentless attack by the Republican Party on the behest of the corporate interests, unions today make up only 9 percent (12 percent if you include public employees) of the private labor force, from 31 percent in the 1940s. Despite that, unions still set the tone of the wages and benefits for most working middle-class Americans.
The labor union movement in America was started around middle to later part of the 19th century, when people were working from dawn ’til dusk in railroads, coal mines and factories across the country. They worked in a harsh working environment and long hours without livable wages or any kind of benefits.
As the country shifted from manufacturing base to service-based economy, the labor demographic too changed. Now, 12 percent of union workers are service based.
They are police officers, firefighters, nurses, medical technicians, hotel employees, construction workers and others. Their wages and benefits are directly tied to consumer spending, a major barometer of economic growth. Any change in the ability of these working Americans to spend will have impact on the strength of the economic engine.
Cutting off the nose to spite the face may be good politics, but it is not smart thinking.
• Roger Adhikari is a finance and management consultant and the president of the Tracy Democratic Club.