A Little About The Owen Sound Show

August 25, 2011

You may already be aware that the August 25th show in Owen Sound is in celebration of the 5th anniversary of Union Rocks, a progressive organization that promotes fairness in the workplace.  But do you know why the issue is so important in 2011?

What is a union?

The idea behind unionization is to allow employees to have a say over their work conditions, benefits, and wages.  Unfortunately, these rights have been slowly taken away since the 1980s, largely in part due to a wave of Reaganomics and Thatcherism that swept over the United States and the UK, respectively.  The impact has been felt worldwide. These theories were very popular with the rich, as they endorsed allowing business owners to act in their own interests, without impediments.

However, the ideas were also sold to the poor on the basis of “trickle down economics”.  Essentially, the claim was that by allowing the rich to accumulate more wealth, businesses could make more investments, be more successful, real wages of employees would increase, and everyone would benefit in the long run.

Why are unions needed?

Despite the claims, weekly earnings in the United States began to drop most significantly in the 1980s and continued to drop since then, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Details Here.
Wages have been adjusted for inflation.

As societies become more productive, average real wages should increase at a similar rate.  This has not happened, and as time goes on, more and more of the country’s wealth is being disproportionately accumulated at the top.  Even the most prominent Reaganite will admit that trickle down theory most directly benefits those with a lot of money first.

We are now in a crisis.  It is no secret that the economy in the United States (and around the world) has been having some trouble, and many people, some under the banner of the “Tea Party” are proposing cost cutting measures to lower debts.  Unions are important in making sure that those who will suffer most from the downward economy, the working class, are not left behind.

What happened in Wisconsin?  Why should I care?

Perhaps most significant of these cost cutting measures took place in Wisconsin when Governor Scott Walker attempted to take away collective bargaining (union) rights away from public employees, including teachers.  This, he claimed, would reduce costs, and fewer people would need to be “let go” in order to save money.

It sounds good on paper, until you realize that the union workers accepted that they would need to also make some sacrifices in the troubled economy.

“We know these are tough times and we have made it clear to the governor and legislators that we are prepared to do our part to help our state recover. This isn’t about protecting pay and benefits – it’s about protecting the right to collectively bargain. That’s what’s being stripped away here – the rights to be represented,” President of the Wisconsin Education Association Council Mary Bell said.

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Though thousands of union activists took the streets and protested, the bill to reduce collective bargaining still passed.  It’s alarming, as it represents a trend of using a downward economy to strip away the rights of workers that their parents fought so hard for.

Paul Krugman, Keynesian economist offers insight into what this is really about:

. . .Mr. Walker isn’t interested in making a deal. Partly that’s because he doesn’t want to share the sacrifice: even as he proclaims that Wisconsin faces a terrible fiscal crisis, he has been pushing through tax cuts that make the deficit worse. Mainly, however, he has made it clear that rather than bargaining with workers, he wants to end workers’ ability to bargain.

. . . .

Why bust the unions? As I said, it has nothing to do with helping Wisconsin deal with its current fiscal crisis. Nor is it likely to help the state’s budget prospects even in the long run: contrary to what you may have heard, public-sector workers in Wisconsin and elsewhere are paid somewhat less than private-sector workers with comparable qualifications, so there’s not much room for further pay squeezes.

So it’s not about the budget; it’s about the power.

In principle, every American citizen has an equal say in our political process. In practice, of course, some of us are more equal than others. Billionaires can field armies of lobbyists; they can finance think tanks that put the desired spin on policy issues; they can funnel cash to politicians with sympathetic views (as the Koch brothers did in the case of Mr. Walker). On paper, we’re a one-person-one-vote nation; in reality, we’re more than a bit of an oligarchy, in which a handful of wealthy people dominate.

Given this reality, it’s important to have institutions that can act as counterweights to the power of big money. And unions are among the most important of these institutions.

Read Krugman’s Full Thoughts

What is the solution?

If this sounds at all concerning to you, you can  find more about unionization here:

http://www.iww.org/

Also be sure to check out the Union Rocks website if you’re Canadian:

http://www.unionrocks.ca/unionrocks.html

Let us know what you think and if you will be attending/attended the show in the comments.