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Last Week's King Features Column

(Writer's note: The arrangement with the syndicators allows my columns to appear here a week after their newspaper release)

FROM NORTH AMERICA SYNDICATE, 300 W 57th STREET, 15th FLOOR, NEW YORK, NY 10019

CUSTOMER SERVICE: (800) 708-7311 EXT. 236

BOB FRANKEN

FOR RELEASE TUESDAY, MARCH 1, 2011

LABOR PAINS

BY BOB FRANKEN

Among the expressions that are grossly overused and all too frequently misleading is the word “team,” certainly when uttered in context of the workplace.

While it is a fact that employer and employee are on the same side, they are, as often as not, playing against each other. Whether it's like the battle raging right now in state capitals between government employees and adversarial politicians, or less boisterous, this is a class struggle that crosses the border between public and private sectors.

To put it simply, the boss wants to pay subordinates as little as possible for as much product as possible. Unions exist, management believes, to protect those who want just the opposite: higher wages for less time and effort.

At the top of a corporation's heap, organized labor usually is seen as the enforcer of mediocrity. Meanwhile, those looking up have a similarly unfavorable impression of the executive suite, controlled by an unscrupulous ruling class that rewards its members with bloated salaries and outlandish perks for doing too little and doing it badly.

What we get is never-ending ferocious warfare, some of which is fought in the political arena. Generally, Democrats and unions support one another while Republicans and the top brass have the same symbiotic relationship. On “Meet the Press,” Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker said that this is his “moment in ... history.” It's the moment, as he sees it, for completing his party's and its benefactors' quest to crush organized labor.


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A generation ago, 35 percent of American workers were unionized. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan broke the back of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, and the percentage of union workers was down to about 20 percent by 1983, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics started keeping track. That portion is now down to 12 percent, and the number's much lower if you take out those who toil for the government; about one in three is a union member. Among the reasons is the fact that in the public sector, management is not inflamed by the life or death passion for profits.

Pardon all the numbers, but they certainly make it clear why Republicans, acting on behalf of virulently anti-union contributors like the infamous Koch brothers, would be trying to complete Reagan's success. It's easy to discern what Gov. Walker and his GOP/corporate crusaders have in mind. They want to render their unions irrelevant and remove them as a political force.

By the way, as they fade away, the gap between the rich and everyone else widens. We've all read the Census Bureau figures. In 2009, the top one-fifth in this country earned one-half of all income.

Before we blame ruthless management, we need to take a hard look at feckless labor, which all too often has been disorganized. Leaders time and time again have been outmaneuvered and outsmarted. Their unrealistic contract demands and obsolete Depression-era dogma have turned public opinion against them even as they represent the aspirations of that same public.

Panicked voters who have seen the economy crater have responded by electing those who represent the very forces of greed that caused the collapse. These new GOP governors will add to the unemployment misery while refusing to raise taxes on their wealthy patrons. They prefer trying to welsh on employment deals and gut any collective bargaining. That's what the fight is about in Wisconsin. The awful deficits just provide a convenient backdrop.

In Madison, union leaders have rallied thousands to the state capitol in protest, as if this was any sort of surprise to them or the Democratic legislators who have had to become fugitives. It's a last gasp act of resistance as Team Management smells final victory over Team Employee, one that could sweep away the remnants of the union movement.

© 2011 Bob Franken

Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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