(As if you didn't notice: This column is delayed here for a week after it newspaper release. It's because of the deal with the syndicator)
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FOR RELEASE FRIDAY, JUNE 15, 2012
BY BOB FRANKEN
It’s a war that’s been going on for decades in the United States. As bitter as any divide in our country, it is the fight-to-the-death struggle between organized labor and the corporate interests who plainly and simply would like to eliminate unions.
That’s what the Wisconsin recall vote was all about. But it was just the latest rout of labor. Generations of this conflict have brought unions almost to the point of extinction. In the private sector, they are already on the brink. In 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, union membership had fallen to less than 7 percent, a record low and barely above the asterisk level. And that includes manufacturing and the trades.
The public sector is quickly becoming the last outpost. Government workers now make up half the entire membership in the labor movement. But as we saw in Wisconsin, their clout is diminishing as their enemies — yes, ENEMIES — in the political and corporate world are winning every fight.
For the Republican Party, shattering unions destroys the power center of the Democrats. Labor, with its millions of dollars in contributions and its millions of members of ground forces, has traditionally kept the Democratic Party afloat. As the unions sink, so do the “D’s.” And the employers will have their employees right where they want them.
One would think that the organization that purports to speak for the many would have the loyalty of most Americans. After all, unions exist to give collective clout to the employees of business interests whose sole purpose is making a profit.
But one would be wrong. According to an August 2011 Harris Poll, which was typical, while two-thirds of the respondents “agree that unions improve the wages and working conditions of workers,” more than seven in 10 also believe they “are more concerned with fighting change than with trying to bring about change and stifle individual initiative.”
That is a brutal indictment in a world where the rules mutate with blinding speed. Put another way, organized labor is viewed as a relic and an impediment to progress. In this atrocious economy, people who are desperate for a job have little patience for those they see as lazy, protected by unions and coddled by obsolete work rules. They have been encouraged to draw that conclusion from the very same people who brought on these hard times. For proof, we need look no further than the just-released Federal Reserve report that shows the median American family suffering a 40 percent decline in net worth between 2007 and 2010. Forty percent wiped out in just three years!
Both candidates stopped on the same day in Ohio, the most significant of the battleground states. President Barack Obama was in Cleveland, once again promising “an economy that is built not from the top down but from a growing middle class,” and Mitt Romney scoffed from Cincinnati, “Talk is cheap.” In other words, dueling platitudes.
But the middle class is shrinking at the same time organized labor is wasting away. All too often, the leaders dither and wither in the face of relentless onslaughts from management. Someone needs to come up with a new model, or there won’t be any model. Nor will there be a middle class, something that was, to a large extent, built by unions. Now they’re frittering it away, along with the fundamental American dream of upward mobility.
Let’s be honest, there are too many slovenly union members who exploit the benefits won in their hard-fought collective bargaining. There are the lazy dolts who, frankly, goof off. They’re easy targets for anti-union executives.
If common sense can be restored, maybe organized labor can reclaim popular support from a country that needs its protection from the profiteers. So far, the profiteers are winning.
© 2012 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.