Sunday, March 6, 2011


One of the tricks the right has mastered and even educated people unfortunately too often fall for is the false equivalency.

The obvious ones are easy to spot. Like evolution vs. creationism. That we should accept these as just two conflicting ideas is illogical. One is based on reality (scientific facts), the other on faith.

There's a similar thing going on with the right's war on unions. They have actually convinced some folks that a corporation spending money on political campaigns is the same as a union doing it, only, and this is their big winning point that some are actually falling for, because unions automatically deduct dues payments that then contribute to union activity in political campaigns, that somehow gives unions an unfair advantage!

As always, the right is much better than the center (and that's the main political positions these days, since the right has successfully moved the political dialogue in their direction, the center is now framed by the right as "the liberal" and "socialist left" when it is nothing of the kind, but that's another post) at framing the argument and then distracting from any deep analyses of their positions by targeting false inequalities.

As most of us who read the news know, unions are the only big donors to political campaigns left for the Democrats in the top five. And since Reagan began the diminishment of the power of unions to organize and collectively bargain—rights that led in large part to the rise and sustainment of a working class that could afford homes and college educations for their children and a retirement that did not lead to impoverishment, which was no longer the case after Reagan—that has left mostly the public sector unions, as they're called—like state and municipal employees, teachers, firefighters, etc.—to defend the rights and pay and working conditions of workers.

If the right wins this battle and these public unions are decimated and forced to accept whatever terms they are given, not only will that add to the disappearance of a working class that has any leverage in the battle for decent living wages and working conditions, it'll also lead to Republicans dominating all campaign financing and thus advertising and organizing (something that was true in many races in the last election, after the Supreme Court ruled that corporations were people and could spend all the money they wanted on political campaigns without disclosing where that money was coming from).

One of the misdirections the right uses to avoid the facts that support the reality that strong unions made our country more prosperous and more equal is that union members have no say in how their dues will be spent politically (something they never complained about when Nixon and the right used Teamster pension funds to finance their political campaigns).

The reality is that you and I contribute to corporations' political activities every time we buy something those corporations sell. And are we to believe that every stockholder in every major corporation that supports Republicans is a Republican?

Of course not.

You know I've often said that "poetry saved my life" and meant it, and more than once. But when I had a cancer removed from my body I didn't do it with poetry. Poetry probably made me more at ease and accepting of whatever the outcome might be, as did the prayers that were sent my way and which I said myself. But I wouldn't rely on prayers and poetry alone to heal, let alone remove, the cancer.

Unions look out for the best interest of the workers in those unions. Management looks out for the best interests of management and those higher up who determine corporate policies. As we saw in the banking debacle, management these days often does not consider what's best for customers or even stockholders, but for the managers themselves. Without a unified entity to counteract that, we see what can happen: the collapse of an entire economy, and the only ones to pay the price were the unorganized stockholders and customers, and ultimately all the rest of us taxpayers when we had to bail the financial institutions out and no one was held accountable.

Unions hold management and owners accountable. That's why there was much more economic equality in this country in the 1950s and '60s when unions were at their strongest, and why economic inequality has reached what used to be called "third world" levels ever since Reagan and the right began systematically attacking and dismantling unions and their right to collective bargaining.

I know some of you who read this blog believe in your hearts that some public sector unions are paid too much or have pension and healthcare benefits that are too good, compared to what private sector people are dealing with now.

But as has been written in many of the pieces I've linked to lately, those in the private sector are being tricked by the right—and their usual divide and conquer strategy that helps them win despite their being in a minority in this country—tricked into believing that public sector unions are getting away with something, when in fact they aren't even getting the kind of benefits and pay private sector unions were getting in the '50s and '60s and most of the country believed was their right to get for the work they did and the thriving economy that work contributed to.

If everyone is working more for less, the solution isn't to take even more power away from those who can bargain for better pay and benefits, but to get back to a system in which everyone belongs to a collective bargaining group that can match the power of the corporate elite and win concessions that anywhere else in the developed world are not only accepted as a right but as a necessity to a successfully functioning society and economy.

(And before the rightwing commenters start spewing the usual lies and misrepresentations of what I just wrote, let me make clear that unions didn't always, nor do they always, deserve to win every concession they bargain for. But neither do the elites they're bargaining with. An example right here in Jersey is the Republican governor who turned down funding from the federal government, and New York state, and other entities that were making it possible to build a tunnel that would allow more trains to pass under the Hudson River and thereby relieve bottlenecks and delays and allow more people to use mass transit etc. The funds were there and hundreds of millions had already been spent, but Christie, without bargaining with any of us voters or commuters or etc. decided by fiat to give those funds back because he calculated that in the long run it would end up costing the state more than was projected. He ignored the projected long term benefits of the project—financial, ecological, etc.—and instead chose to use whatever money the state may have contributed to the project to widen highways! (creating more pollution, traffic problems—it's been proven that making more roads or existing roads bigger only increases traffic and doesn't stop bottlenecks and traffic jams etc.). It's interesting that who that immediately hurt the most (in the long run it hurts almost all New Jersey residents) were the unions that had already begun building the tunnel, and whose workers are now unemployed and unable to contribute to the state's economy, in fact are a drain on it. But his decision weakens their union and thereby any contributions it might make to a Democratic opponent of Christie's! It's also interesting to note that, as I've written here before, Christie ended an agreement with movie and TV show makers for tax incentives to make their films and shows in Jersey, another blow to one of the few private sector industries with strong unions—the entertainment industry. [Full disclosure, I live mostly on a pension I get from an entertainment industry union, which I believe I deserve, since the entertainment business has been, and remains, not only one of the most successful industries in our country, it's also one of the few we still export to other countries, number one in fact for years, so without my contribution and others like me in my unions, that industry may not have been as successful and one of the few reliable domestic and export industries in this country would suffer.])


Shem The Penman said...

Dear Lal--Perhaps the best irony of the current wave of anti-public-sector-unionism is the right's charge that the public employee unions in Wisconsin are engaged in class-warfare against the citizenry of the State of Wisconsin. Is this not lovely Orwellian double-think at its best? It's also a classic example of the Divide-Et-Impera tactic by which The Man keeps his underlings at each other's throats while he continues to enjoy champagne suppers at their expense.
I can hardly wait to see how fast Wisconsin's current governor goes to work for the Koch Brothers once his term in office expires.
Long Live The Revolving Door,
Shem The Penman

JIm said...

Your premise that corporations primarily support Republicans was proved wrong in the last presidential cycle. Most corporate money, and particuarly Wall St. money went to Obama and the Democrats.

Unions are fine as long as the collective barbaining is honest. Public unions paying off politicians who repay them with massive benefits is not honest. There is no adverserial relationship as there is with private sector unions.

Christie blocked the tunnel because NJ is going bankrupt and could not afford the cost. The Feds came back with a better offer that I believe he is now considering.

Loyeen said...

If teachers are paid too much then why did I have to work 5 extra jobs to supplement my pay last year. I pay $1040 for health, vision and dental for my twins each month. I have a flex pay of $405 to off-set this fee. If my pay is so awesome then why did I work two summer school tutoring programs. I am always looking for ways to supplement my pay. Sorry, this makes me crazy. Lally, enjoyed your comments/blog as usual. Loyeen

Robert G. Zuckerman said...

We have it all wrong. Teachers and nurses should not have to worry about health insurance for their families, for roofs over their heads and food. Actually, if you really want me to go commie on your asses, no one on this planet should be suffering, hungry, or homeless and at this very moment the resources and wealth exist for this to be so.

Jerome said...

A sign of the reframing you mention: for a long time it was customary to report that Detroit auto workers were paid anywhere from $55 to $80 an hour. UAW, in the last figure I saw, shows them at $28. The major media, including the NY Times, was adding in all their benefits and pension, retirement, etc. But no office workers, that I know of, refer to their salary this way. When all the benefits are figured into any salary, including health insurance and retirement, etc., it's often said to be worth double the initial figure. But to state basic pay this way is the result of propaganda.

Anonymous said...

Why can't movie stars and sports figures, etc. take pay cuts and give the difference to teachers and nurses and all the other folks who actually do the important work of the world? Not that movies and sports, etc. aren't entertaining but really, millions to play a game and sit around waiting for the next shot? Sorry, that's my rant, I'm sure I'll regret it.

Robert G. Zuckerman said...

If you regret it, I'll be right by your side Caitlin - I agree 1000 percent. No disrespect intended to the fabulously wealthy, but everything is connected, and every choice and deed have consequence.


Shem The Penman said...

We need to get straight on this: the forces of reaction mean to kill public-employee-unions. Once the unions are gone, nurses, teachers, cops, and fire-fighters will be re-defined as "independent contractors," ineligible for union membership and subject to employment at much lower wages, part-time status, and absolutely no job security. Never mind health insurance and pensions. This is The New Feudalism, kiddies, and you'll be best off if you can find a benevolent laird to whom you can swear fealty.

Lally said...

When I was a kid, the boarder in our house was an ex-firefighter crossing guard. One of my brother's was a cop and when he married he moved into an apartment in our town and later he and his wife bought us house in that town for their family.
Neither of them would be able to live in that town these days. The local cops in my town live elsewhere as well and commute. It not only impacts the ways in which they do their job since they aren't literally our neighbors anymore and don't know the kids and teenagers as well as they might if they're kids went to the same school system like they used to etc. but it also creates some resentment from them toward the local citizens who CAN afford to live here. That is more and more the case everywhere. One class of people do the service for the next higher class, from housecleaning to teaching to putting out fires, and that higher class does the service for the next higher group, corporate management and CEOs etc. and all of them service the wealthiest few who control most of the economy and the wealth unfortunately most politicians (who are also in the business of servicing those above them). It's gotten pretty nigh feudal, exactly as Shem says.