The “mail” the last three days has been full with references to Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin’s attempts to disempower the public sector unions in his state (Nation or Washington Post). As the Post points out, he has done so with threats of military force (calling out the national guard), even as Egypt’s workers have had their voice heard without military intervention.
Gov. Walker’s thinking is not unusual (even if it is the most blatant and scary) even for those of us prone to pessimissm. As the Post article points out, it’s not just about the money, it’s about disempowering labor unions, who they see as they natural enemies in politics.
And, although I hate wrapping myself or anyone in the mantle of Americanism, collective action, including collective bargaining, is fundamental to our belief system. The American revolutionaries believed in non-violent collective action, and only turned to violence when that failed. There is no shortage of examples from American history of how collective action was used to cause changes. Just in the union movement, the collective work of early union pioneers in this country in the late 19th and early 20th century led to the standardized work week of 40 hours, 8 hours days, and employer-funded health care.
Again, echoing the Post article, everyone in this country should be concerned about this kind of union diminution. Unions raised the standard of living of every working American, including those basic hours and weeks and benefits, and we now live in a time when corporate profits soar even as real wages dwindle. America is losing the middle class, which is what we are built on economically, and which is the goal of many of our students. That’s the class that buys cars and houses and other non-subsistence goods and drives our economy.
We hear the rumblings of that diminution here in PA, as the debates over privatizing the state wine and spirit stores begin. At stake (among other things) are about 4,500 solid jobs, with sustainable wages and benefits. Does anyone really believe that your local drugstore or mega supermarket that buys the local liquor license will provide the same kind of jobs?
It’s happening in Wisconsin. It’s happening in Ohio (Kasich). You look at some of the proposed legislation in our assembly, and we can see the potential for it happening here..
Let’s stand united, as apart we do nothing but fall.