Harris v. Quinn: Will the Supreme Court Abolish Public Sector Unions on Monday

Yves here. Truth be told, I had no idea that Harris v. Quinn, a case challenging the legitimacy of public sector unions, was before the Supreme Court until I saw a note on a listserv.

Mainstream accounts of American history are almost completely devoid of the brutal efforts to suppress the organization of workers to gain basic rights, like workplace safety, fair wages, and limits on the length of the workday. Here are some examples of the ferocity of union-breaking efforts:

One of the first great strike waves of this country occured on the railways in 1877; in that strike, US federal troops repeatedly opened fire on strikers battling with the monopolistic railways, killing twelve people in Baltimore, killing twenty-five in Pittsburg, and using troops throughout the country to break the strike. Local police in Pittsburg had actually supported the strikers because public opinion so supported the
strike, but President Hayes made sure federal troops were used to defend the railroad monopolies.

In July of 1892, Carnegie Steel declared war on the Amalgamated union of iron, steel and tin workers as they went on strike. A private Pinkerton army marched against the union’s position armed with Winchester rifles–seven strikers died and three Pinkertons died from return fire…

Unions found that if they struck, the government would issue an injunction and members would be jailed; if they called for a boycott, they’d be bankrupted by the courts* or threatened with imprisonment. At the same time, attempts by unions to use legislation such as limits to the working day or minimum-wage laws were voided by the courts (until 1937 and the New Deal). Unions found that whether through the ballot, through a strike, or through
speech and boycotts–the employers and government would attack them.

In 1912, a massive strike in the wool mills of Lawrence, MA showed where employer violence overstepped its bounds and backfired. Despite the deployment of the militia and the arrest of strike leaders, the company could not break the strike. In order to survive economically, unionists planned to send their children to supporters in other states. The company and its supporters declared that no children would be allowed to leave the city. When the strike committee undertook to take the children to the railway station, the police and militia surrounded the station, the police closed in and began to beat mothers and children mericilessly. Despite the jailing of 296 strikers, public protest and continued resistance forced the company to raise wages although the union was never recognized.

Possibly the most bloody attack on unionists was Ludlow, Colorado in 1913 where J.D. Rockefeller and his Colorado Fuel and Iron Company had state militia and hired special deputies attack and try to crush coal miners there. Conflict ranged for months until the
militia opened machine-fire on a tent city of mineworkers family and then soaked tents in oil and put them to the torch. Women and children huddled in pits to escape the falmes; in one, eleven children and two women were found burned to death at the hands of the militia.

This list does not include beating and murders of union leaders and prominent members.

It is fair to point out that the American labor union has since become ineffective and has allowed itself to be used and abused by the Democratic party. Union leaders have failed to operate strategically and too many are corrupt. Now that private sector unions are a husk of their former selves, public sector unions have become the last bastion of worker protection, and they may suffer a fatal blow via Harris v. Quinn on Monday.

By Lambert Strether. Originally published at Corrente

I cruised by Scotusblog today and saw this note:

At 9:30 a.m. on Monday we expect orders from the June 27 Conference, followed by the opinions at 10:00 a.m. We will begin live-blogging at this link at approximately 9:15. The only remaining undecided cases of the Term are Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Harris v. Quinn.

Yeah, yeah, Hobby Lobby boo! So what’s Harris v. Quinn?

I’m glad you asked. LA Times:

[Harris vs. Quinn] asks whether a state may compel even those public employees who elect not to join a union to pay fees to the union, since they benefit from the collective bargaining agreements it negotiates.

A “yes” answer would compromise the rights of workers to disassociate themselves from a union, rights grounded in the freedoms of speech and association. A “no” answer would compromise the rights of workers to form a union that can robustly defend their most fundamental interests.

So, will the Roberts Court rule in favor of free-rider public employees and weakening public sector unions? I’m guessing yes (the rational decision on cell phone search — “Get a warrant” — being a sop to cellphone users in the political and professional classes). But perhaps I’m too cynical. We can hope that the Court doesn’t double down, especially if they want elders to be taken care of by home health workers who are treated like humans instead of slaves. Public News Service:

Harris vs. Quinn could stop home-care workers and child-care providers from joining public-sector unions that automatically include employees in paying dues and enjoying contract benefits.

Millions of women who help people raise children and care for aging parents deserve the ability to join a union and make progress on issues such as pay equity, said Jennifer Munt, spokeswoman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. …

“When women join unions, we gain a voice on the job,” she said. “Many of these jobs pay too little, and they don’t provide women with a path out of poverty so they can support their own families.”

Munt said nearly 60 percent of women would make more if they were paid the same as men, and the overall poverty rate would be cut in half as a result. She said she believes union representation is key for that to happen.

“Public-sector unions have shown,” she said, “that if women enjoy collective-bargaining rights and have a strong voice in the workplace, the inequalities of the past begin to fade away.”

But we’re not talking just home-care workers. We’re talking all public sector unions. PR Watch:

Joel Rogers, a professor of law and sociology at the University of Wisconsin, calls it “the most important labor law case the court has considered in decades.”

This is because when the Supreme Court decided to take on the case, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation dramatically expanded the scope of the case beyond the home health care workers to include all public sector workers, from teachers and firefighters to sanitation workers to librarians. If the court follows National Right to Work’s lead, every state in the country would essentially turn into an anti-union “right to work” state, which would be a significant blow to public sector unions’ collective bargaining efforts and also complicate thousands of existing contracts between organized workers and municipalities, cities, counties, and states across the country.

Remember! “Sanctity of contract” never applies if you’re a worker!

Professor Rogers and other labor experts contend that the NRTWC’s success in the U.S. Supreme Court “would be a disaster for labor, particularly for the public sector unions that traditionally rely more heavily on agency shop agreements.” As Rogers points out, it is technically possible to form a union in a “right to work” state, but when union members are free to stop paying their dues, the union becomes a weak and ineffective organization. The results for American workers are clear. Research shows that “right to work” states have lower wages, less health care and more poverty.

So how bad is it going to be? Economic Policy Institute:

  • Right-to-work laws have no impact in boosting economic growth: research shows that there is no relationship between right-to-work laws and state unemployment rates, state per capita income, or state job growth.
  • Right-to-work laws have no significant impact on attracting employers to a particular state; surveys of employers show that “right to work” is a minor or non-existent factor in location decisions, and that higher-wage, hi-tech firms in particular generally prefer free-bargaining states.
  • Right-to-work laws lower wages—for both union and nonunion workers alike—by an average of $1,500 per year, after accounting for the cost of living in each state. …

Wow, $1500 a year. That’s more than the Beltway is trying to beat out of your 85-year-old grandma’s pension with Social Security “reform”!

Again, totally disgusting and screws over workers? Heck, yeah! To the Roberts Court, that’s not a bug. It’s a feature. They won’t be able to help themselves.

NOTE The PR Watch article includes a ton of material on the usual suspects, the Koch Brothers. I skipped it. Do note that Harris v. Quinn is totally under the radar because the fucking Democrats, silent and complicit as usual, didn’t say squat about it. In fact, this post contains almost everything there is to be found on it in Google.

UPDATE We hear about Hobby Lobby v. Burwell from Democrats because it’s framed as an issue in “identity politics.” We don’t hear about Harris v. Quinn from Democrats because that’s an issue of economic justice. Never mind that home health workers are overwhelmingly female, or that public sector unions are disproportionately female and minority. So here the Democrats have placed themselves in the ludicrous position of defending women’s right to contraception with Hobby Lobby, while not defending women’s ability to pay for it with Harris v. Quinn. That won’t stop them from fundraising on it, or course. I mean, come on.

* This does not mean simply that the union itself would be bankrupted; homes of leaders and prominent members would also be foreclosed upon.

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  1. ambrit

    A commentator from the other day mentioned the “legitimacy” of present day institutions as one of the items in play in todays political and economic conflicts. A reactionary ruling by the SCOTUS on “Harris v. Quinn” will only make the present state of affairs formal. The social utility of the Government will be legally bound over to the oligarchs. All pretense to progressivism within government will have ceased. The gloves are coming off. Many of us commenting here have asked, “When will it get bad enough for the average person in America say, enough is enough.” Here it is. The government is flirting with outright illegitimacy. Napoleon is quoted as saying about strategy that; “The moral is to the physical as three to one.” The Neos in Washington have proven that they can’t win a war in the East, even with massive physical superiority. They are going to have to learn that lesson all over again right here at home. Look up the Wobblies. Their time is coming again.

    1. lolcar

      No other country (as far as I know, anyway) has a judicial branch that can, with the stroke of a pen, so thoroughly tie the hands of the elected branches of government. It’s a bit surprising really that the system worked reasonably well for so long.

      1. YankeeFrank

        It didn’t work very well at all until the late mid-20th century with the Warren and Burger courts that were quite liberal for the times (and these times as well of course). These were the courts that decided Roe v. Wade, Brown v. Board of Ed., the now-gutted Voting Rights Act, that found the right to privacy within the 4th amendment (I think, and many, many other important decisions that made this country great. The Roberts court is trying to undo all of that. Roberts is a monster. Alito is a monster. They are fascists in robes, and the deference with which they are treated disgusts me. The vision they have for our country is completely alien to the one I grew up with and my ancestors fought for, and lucky us! We have decades more to enjoy the wisdom of John Roberts.

        1. lolcar

          All true. But it did at least work inasmuch as the United States is the longest surviving presidential democracy. They don’t usually last long.

          1. Nathanael

            Yeah, after the revolution we should try a parliamentary system with proportional representation.

      2. Nathanael

        lolcar: the judicial branch has totally messed things up in Thailand a couple of times, if I remember correctly. Also, I think, Malaysia?

        Yeah, it’s pretty darn odd. I agree that it’s bizarre that it’s lasted this long in the US.

    2. Lexington

      The government is flirting with outright illegitimacy

      Shouldn’t that be SCOTUS instead of government?

      What surprises me is that while the evidence that the SCOTUS is controlled by doctrinaire ideologues fabricating transparently self serving legal doctrines out of whole cloth that have little support or legitimacy from the the vast bulk of the citizenry (of any political stripe) there have been no calls for the impeachment of the justices, or even a mass march in Washington concluding with their burning in effigy on the stairs of the courthouse. The plain fact is that the SCOTUS has been highjacked by extremists who are waging unremitting war on the freedoms of the population but virtually no one can be stirred to stating the obvious publicly.

      The best I can figure it is that this a replay of 2000-4, when the executive was taken over by radical extremists who made absolutely no bones about their extremism but who were widely treated as reasonable, respectable people because both the establishment and the population at large complacently assumed that the norms that had broadly guided American foreign policy since the end of World War II were still in place and would continue to exercise a moderating influence on leadership behaviour. In other words, they acted as if Bill Clinton was still in the White House.

      Similarly it seems most people still accord a degree of legitimacy and deference to the Supreme Court that is a holdover from an earlier era when the court’s decisions at least made a show of conforming to precedent, intelligible jurisprudence and a common sense understanding of justice. It seems no one wants to actually say the emperor has no clothes because to do so would be to invite politicization of a nominally impartial institution and potentially create an opening for a broader assault on the entire constitutional order.

      Here’s the thing though: the SCOTUS has already been politicized -very blantantly so- and turning a blind eye to this travesty in the name of keeping the constitutional peace is a Faustian bargain the vast majority of the population will in the near future come to regret.

      1. YankeeFrank

        Yes. I see it amongst the supposedly intelligent people I grew up with. These are relatively “liberal” types with college and advanced degrees, and they can’t be bothered to pay attention to what’s going on. Their complacency is incomprehensible to me, yet there it is. I think you are spot on that most people think that things moderated in the past so why not again? They still don’t get that our very way of life is under attack from vicious ideologues that live and breathe fascistic protestantism and neoliberal dogma. Will they wake up in time to do something?

        1. flora

          a small point – and I may be misunderstanding the term “fascistic protestantism” – but,
          there are no Protestants on the Roberts court. Stevens was the last. He retired 4 years ago.
          The Roberts’ court is currently composed 6 Roman Catholic and 3 Jewish justices.

          But, as I say, perhaps I have misunderstood the use of the term “fascistic protestantism”.

          1. YankeeFrank

            I wasn’t referring specifically to the Supreme Court with that comment, but to the right wing protestant resurgence that is denying scientific reality and rational thought throughout all levels of the nation. And as far as Roberts, Alito, Thomas and Scalia are concerned, their project to force religion into US political life can hardly be described as conforming to modern Catholic teaching.

        2. Jack Parsons

          I have a pet rant on the religious make-up of the Supremes.

          Part of the point of having a group is that they can argue each other into changing positions- to do this they have to come from different legal traditions to avoid an intellectual monoculture. Catholicism (Jesuits at least) have a sophisticated legal culture, as do Jews (Judaic upbringings are very much about argumentation). Protestants I don’t know about- they must have something to discuss besides marshmallow Jell-O recipes. Louisiana’s legal code is famously simpler than the rest of the states as it started from the Napoleonic Code. I would love to have a mixture of people with these different traditions, rather than the desert-religion-dominated monoculture we have now. And a goddam atheist as well.

      2. Nathanael

        One issue is that impeachment and removal of the corrupt judges on the Supreme Court is practically impossible because the US Senate is broken. (67 votes? Seriously? From THAT corrupt body?) There’s still a big cultural tendency to shout down court-packing proposals like FDR’s. And people are understandably uncomfortable with proposing the Andrew Jackson solution of simply declaring the court’s ruling to be irrelevant.

      3. Jack Parsons

        Impeachment can have three different purposes: political repression, disloging corruption or other malfeasance, and fixing incompetence as a simple personnel/human resources issue. Revulsion at its use for political repression caused the founders to require that impeachment be a criminal proceeding. I have not seen simple incompetence discussed in lay literature.

        Kicking out Scalia & Roberts would definitely be political repression. I don’t know of any documented cases of corruption in the current Supremes besides Clarence Thomas’s wife. Kicking out Thomas as a simple personnel decision is a no-brainer: the man does not contribute. (In fact, Scalia called him a “weirdo” in an interview.)

        1. Lexington

          Bring on the political repression.

          I understand that impeachment was only intended as a remedy for serious criminal misconduct and is almost impossible to effect. However, TALKING about impeachment will move the Overton Window and put the fear of God -or at least of the people- into the court. Like I said, if you want to see Chief Justice Roberts sweat burn him in effigy on the steps of the Supreme Court -or as close to there as the police will allow- while thousands cheer. It needs to be organized right to make a big impression the first time, because having seen it once the PTB will revoke whatever remains of freedom of assembly in Washington the very next day.

          More broadly, I’m calling for a revolution. Or at least a discussion about the merits of revolution. Such a discussion cannot be bounded by the “intention” of the Founding Fathers, or quibbles about “constitutionality” (something which the American elite abandoned even the pretense of caring about over a decade ago), or concern about “practicality”. That’s inside the box thinking, and the box is now a prison that is keeping the people bound and subservient to a small coterie of extremely wealthy and powerful people. The whole point of my previous post was that unquestioning and generally unconscious adherence to these norms is handing all the power to the other side: they have already shredded the Bill of Rights, politicized the judiciary, and sold government to the highest bidder. They recognize no rules except those that serve their interests. If progressives insist on clinging to the high ground and only fighting by the Marquess of Queensberry’s Rules then they are willfully rendering themselves impotent in the face of an opponent who has no such scruples.

          I understand that counseling actions that test the limits of constitutionalism and possibly even cross them entails serious dangers but to me the salient question is this: are those dangers greater than acquiescing in the extra-constitutional coup that is occurring before our eyes? As unpalatable as it may be to contemplate I don’t think it’s beyond the realm of possibility that one day people will look back on this period in history and say “we had to destroy the constitution in order to save it. Or at least try”.

    3. trish

      “When will it get bad enough for the average person in America [to] say, enough is enough.” Here it is.”
      I don’t think so. Not even close.

      -Too many have bought into the propaganda about those over-payed, huge-pension-sucking, tenure-abusing, jobs-and-economy-hurting, evil unions. Effectively got the poor-to-middle class turning on each other. Just like the focus on immigrants. Turn the not-so-poor against the poorer or vice versa.

      -the MSM isn’t the watch-dog press anymore. Most aren’t reading, aren’t even aware of the true watch-dog-press. So many remain ignorant of the facts.

      -circuses and cheap enough stuff still an effective diversion.

      It’s insidious, this stuff. The decimation of any kind of progressive society is moving now at a rapid rate, going global, and I fear too many don’t have a clue the degree of this. This won’t wake them up…

    4. mellon

      How and where does the supersecret Trade in Services Agreement fit into this? All public services in the signatory nations are reputed to be “in play” except for the ones which have been explicitly carved out, plus the same ones which are excluded by GATS exceptions, which are only a very few. (The default is to be included, since its a US-promoted FTA.) Some of the proposals (the EU’s) have been made public, they can be found online – search also for TTIP because they have been lumped together.

      342 civil society groups oppose deregulation and privatisation in proposed services agreement TISA

      PSI info packet on TISA

    5. Lambert Strether

      IMNSHO, no Supreme Court decision is legitimate since the first post-Bush v. Gore justice was placed on the Court. Scalia wrote that “good for one-time only,” “really not a precedent” decision precisely to select his Presidential candidate, because he knew that candidate would nominate justices for the Court who were congenial to his judicial “philosophy.” All Supreme Court nominations, hence decisions, from Bush v. Gore onward are “fruit of the poisonous tree.”

      Just another legitimacy problem [hums, whistles, looks skyward].

      1. ambrit

        Here’s the business proposition: we vend Skynett Brand Tinfoil Hatts from this site and Corrente. It’s a sure fire moneymaker! And good for public sanity! (Now we have to get some “Celebrities” to start wearing them. How much does Dr. Oz charge for endorsements? Oprah? Stephanopoulos?)

  2. John

    Watching GMs unions cave to employer demands for salary cuts was the ultimate failure. Like so many companies from the crises GM took advantage of the situation to extract deep concessions. In other words the unions forced their members to accept the losses while getting nothing in return from the gains. Yep, unions have failed to live up to their own core values of protecting their members.

    1. lolcar

      “GM took advantage of the situation to force deep concessions.” vs. “The unions forced the members to accept the losses.”
      So which is it ? They’re mutually contradictory.

      1. ambrit

        They are only contradictory if you assume the two “sides” are separate. The mainline unions are generally ‘captured’ today.

        1. diptherio

          A few weeks ago, I either heard or read some long-time labor organizer opining that he had always been against closed-shop unions. His perspective was that the unions being able to depend on a steady flow of dues, regardless of how good a job they did representing the interests of the rank-and-file, gave the union reps a free-ride and created serious agency problems. If I recall correctly, the man stated that the mandatory dues model was pushed by the CIO.

          Let’s hope that if mandatory dues are overturned the unions will respond by offering workers more than they are now, rather than by boo-hooing and wilting. Wage and benefit deals are not enough (especially when those deals are getting incredibly crappy). I think unions in general need to be negotiating for more democratic management structures and other more radical demands.

          The unions delivered better wages and bennies for awhile, but they are increasingly failing to even do a good job of that. They have suffered numerous attacks from the right and from the capitalist class, it’s true, but many of their wounds have been self-inflictedt.

          1. Left in Wisconsin

            There is no evidence that good, competent unions are thriving while lousy unions are dying. They are all dying. Lots of unions have done lots of things wrong, but that has nothing to do with why they are dying. And it is the good, strong unions that management hates the most, not the lame, corrupt ones.

        2. Jack Parsons

          The numbers are definitely in on closed-shop v.s. right-to-starve: r-t-s states have a higher average income and a higher growth rate BUT a lower median wage, meaning that a few reap the economic benefit.

          Your organizer may well be right, I have no experience with unions. (Econ-wise, computer programmers are dumb as rocks.) R-t-s would be a positive force in an environment of strong legal protections. We ain’t got that.

    2. mellon

      GM was/is shifting production to Mexico and Asia. The fact of the matter is, workers are much less “essential” now to a company like GM. They still need workers but they have a lot more options, they can automate, they can offshore, or both. The skills bar to employment is rising very quickly.

      Almost nobody really gets HOW fast! Exponentially fast.

      Automation- most of it technology we already have – will likely eliminate the entire lower tier of jobs and most of the middle tier. We need to be doing everything we can to improve the safety net. Unfortunately, thats not…

      So anyway, it seems to me that TISA may in the end, with the exception of maybe teaching and nursing jobs, be just a empty promise being given to the developing nations of jobs in the wealthy countries which will not materialize. Those jobs may be automated, instead.

      1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        We have to ask ourselves some questions.

        Like, why do they invent and sell you robots that can clean house for you, but not robots that you can buy to own and, in your place, go out and get a job making money for you by cleaning offices?

        When robots take over commercial driving, it will be owned by and work for the wealth, instead by and for the current truck driver , with each of them owing a truck driving robot.

        In short, of the many, many directions science and technology can take, it always invariably go where it will benefit the 0.01% and be used against you.

        1. mellon

          >We have to ask ourselves some questions. Like, why do they invent and sell you robots that can clean house for you, but not robots that you can buy to own and, in your place, go out and get a job making money for you by cleaning offices?

          Well, the closest we get in our society to that is computers. Computer hardware is one of the best values in the world, as its constantly becoming more and more powerful, and cheaper. Suppose the moder day equivalent of cleaning offices is software development. There are software frameworks that will do 90% of the work for you if you just know the magical invocation of code to make that happen. And people get paid a lot of money to do that.

          And of course the other answer to the question is that the kind of structure you describe is unlikely to happen because at that point it would make more sense from the employer’s perspective for the employer to simply buy the robot.

          >When robots take over commercial driving, it will be owned by and work for the wealth, instead by and for the current truck driver , with each of them owing a truck driving robot.

          Of course. The cargo carrying autonomous truck is already a reality, its just not quite ready for prime time yet. But it will be soon and people should realize that.

          And in the final analysis, wouldn’t that truck driver rather be doing something else? (assuming they could earn a living doing it.) We should also realize that its the duty of government to #1 be honest with people about what’s happening, and #2 do their best to lessen the impact of the rapid changes which are occurring.

          They are profoundly failing at both things. Its really mind blowing how little the US government is expected to do to “earn their keep” so to speak. In the final analysis, all of these things are social problems that the government should have been telling us about 20 or 30 years ago, because its certain THEy knew that they were coming.

          >In short, of the many, many directions science and technology can take, it always invariably go where it will benefit the 0.01% and be used against you.

          No, not necessarily true. Look at the Web. Despite all of the problems with it being used as a method of state surveillance, the fact exists that some people at least are still managing to communicate despite all the efforts to dumb down society, laws, dreams, etc. to their lowest common denominators.

      2. Yves Smith Post author

        Direct factory labor is only 10-13% of the wholesale cost of a car. And offshoring work increases shipping and financing costs (carrying inventories longer) and managerial costs (more coordination, and this by higher paid workers).

        It’s critical to recognize that offshoring and outsourcing are in many cases not about cost savings, but a straight-up transfer from factory labor to managers and executives.

  3. DakotabornKansan

    “All that serves labor serves the nation. All that harms is treason. If a man tells you he trusts America, yet fears labor, he is a fool. There is no America without labor, and to fleece the one is to rob the other.” – Abraham Lincoln

    You don’t find many stories in the media about our nation’s history of brutal efforts to suppress the organization of workers to gain basic rights.

    As James Madison wrote, “A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both.”

    American democracy has been too long on pious platitudes and too short on practical performances.

    What’s up with the teacher bashing – blame teachers and their unions – in this country? It seems to be the one thing that seems to enjoy bipartisan support.

    The Incite Agency, created by former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs and former Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt, will lead a national public relations effort to support a series of lawsuits aimed at challenging tenure, seniority and other job protections that teachers unions have defended ferociously.

    Why are we watching it happen? Why are so many buying into this?

    Undermine the job security, working conditions, and wages of one group of workers, the easier it is for employers to undermine them for all workers. It’s a brilliant strategy to divide and exhaust the union, its resources, and its members.

    The late Joe Bageant once asked, “Why do they [the white working class] work so hard to screw themselves? It is because the screwees have no language of their own in which to talk to themselves, or to discuss their condition with others of their own class. When they speak at all of these things, they speak in the language of their screwers, a language in which terms such as “socialism,” “universal healthcare,” “welfare society,” “citizen entitlement,” “social taxes,” “solidarity,” “fair go,” and “common weal” are deemed profanities. Without language and the education to use it in defining concepts, their intellectual life is a constellation of deeply internalized corporate state-media imagery–commercials for the American brand entertainingly presented in a theater of political and social kitsch.” – Joe Bageant, Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir.

    1. Carolinian

      Gotta say the “s” word seems fairly rare around these precincts. Hey there was once a thing called socialism. I remember it.

      I think an interesting aspect to our current era is the degree to which marketing and public relations have taken over every part of our lives. Undoubtedly this is in part because we are so media saturated.

      So yes, disappear a word, make it radioactive, and you can disappear the concept. Or so the thinking seems to be. Bageant was dead on.

      1. Alejandro

        The other s-word (Solidarity), imho, is the true elixir with the only caveat being that it be universal.

        1. scraping_by

          Solidarity was directly damaged, perhaps fatally, when Affirmative Action/Diversity became identified with liberal politics. Slicing and dicing the population into identity factions, and then building an arcane system to enforce it created heartburn not only among the white males but with anyone with a sense of fairness. The government’s legitimate function of ending discrimination got turned into a satiric form of nepotism.

          Political Correctness became the official policy of the public schools. Most of the young people I know grew up getting beaten on for being privileged or condescended to for being a victim. When they left school, resentment was part of thinking for themselves.

          This is, by the way, part of the reason teacher unions get no sympathy.

          Divide and conquer is the official policy of the US Government. They do the dividing, and the oligarchs do the conquering.

          1. Alejandro

            I very much appreciate the feedback. Everything you say, indeed seems to be the way it has played out. The Solidarity that I was referring to has more to do with a visceral understanding that we really are in this together. A recognition that what happens to Susan’s grandmother or grandfather can happen to mine and eventually to me. It’s a deeply felt repudiation of the kind of thinking that says “as long as I’m ok f—k everybody else”. It’s commitment to doing whatever I can with whatever I have to make our short time on this blue rock better for as many people as I can, independent of identity politricks.
            Also it’s recognizing that every single comfort and convenience that anyone enjoys depends on the work and cooperation of a lot of other people. It’s taking the time to ponder how many hands and minds went into the simple act of drinking a glass of water in the comfort of your home (assuming you still have one). Even more, if the water is cold on a hot summer day, like today. Synergizing not atomizing seems to be the way forward.

          2. Banger

            It’s always about divide and conquer. I directly saw with my own eyes how the leftist movements of the late 60s were broken up by identity politics quite literally. Black Power started it (a largely phony issue) and then feminism a bit later then the rest of it. Conversations, when different groups were speaking, during that time were very contentious and unity fell apart no matter what you did. Out of that the whole political correctness thing emerged so that all the disparate groups that made up the left would be happy (because they were all pissed at each other). Thus the left became inarticulate by the seventies and never recovered, in my view. I personally think that the government played a hand in all this but it was honestly there–the gov’t wouldn’t have had to do all that much to break up the left. It was very sad–we should never have given into those narrow-focus groups because none of them really had an interest in a leftist pov–they only had very narrow goals, particularly for themselves as individuals.

            1. scraping_by

              You’re right about the leadership cadres. The rank and file still knew they were doing well with the New Deal, the Great Society, the GI Bill, and Keynesian economics. Many knew from their own experience, the young from their parents’ stories.

              The quota system, hiring preferences, and the like were a direct betrayal of their world view, chasing them away from mass action and mutual help. Later came lifestyle politics, abortion, the drug war, further fracturing working class identity and solidarity. And then came the conquering part.

              It’s also, by the way, a big part of expanding anti-government frothing from a crackpot fringe to populism. Even today that’s overblown, especially in the media, but it’s the reaction of betrayed people, not congenital idiots.

            2. mellon

              Banger, TISA completely gets rid of affirmative action, minority carve outs, set asides, means tested subsidies, onerous licensing requirements, green jobs programs, tax rebates, buy american programs, labeling laws, anything that would give any host country firms any kind of unfair advantage or maintain or create any monopoly (like single payer) is strictly forbidden and must be compensated unless its reserved at the beginning. .

              Its all laid out in this video:TISA – Sanya Reid Smith, Legal Advisor and Senior Researcher, Third World Network

          3. mellon

            Divide and Conquer is the title of one of the PolicyAlternatives.ca trade agreement writeups. Which are really some of the best writing out there on the so called “free trade agreements”.

            I know really nothing on this legal case but coming as it is on the eve of TISA, and given its subject matter, I am sure the two are connected in some way. Here is Divide and Conquer its about a 2005 US-style FTA that was supposed to supplant GATS, (the WTO services agreement- and a MAJOR factor in US policy, although they would never admit that. FTAA was never ratified. But their wish list is eye opening. After reading it, or perhaps before, I would watch this short and concise video by Scott Sinclair who has written a lot of the best stuff on FTAs. And its all free, as far as I can tell, and on the Web. Here is his Publications page Actually, just searching on site: PolicyAlternatives.ca, and strings like “GATS” or “WTO” – maybe with filetype:pdf thrown in there – will return a lot. Highly recommended. good luck!

    2. trish

      “What’s up with the teacher bashing – blame teachers and their unions – in this country? It seems to be the one thing that seems to enjoy bipartisan support”

      if “bad teachers” are the cause of failing schools and failing kids we don’t have to look at the real issues, about poverty, racism, etc. Instead, unions can be destroyed and privatization can take off and testing corporations can make billions of dollars.

      Bipartisan support because bipartisan $upport by the corporation/finance elite.

      Teacher bashing is just very effective, part of the propaganda to decimate protections and divert attention.
      Very effective. Even among people who are somewhat aware of what’s going on. The librarian (“library manager,” now) where I work has two kids who are teachers and was grousing recently against tenure, in support of the regressive push here in NC to get teachers to ditch their tenure in favor of a few extra dollars thrown their way. She couldn’t see beyond the paying a few bad teachers too much issue.

      very effective.

      1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        In at least one aspect, failing schools have nothing to do with racism and poverty.

        That we fail to graduate wise people can been seen in well-endowed schools like Harvard and Yale as well as any budget-constrained community colleges or high schools. (Thus, we read comments like YankeeFrank’s above at 5:03am and in the links section today about how shockingly – to older lefties – not liberal today’s young lefties are).

        In fact, where wisdom-education is most needed, among the wealth/race privileged kids, the failure is most abject.

        It could be that the society as whole is to blame for this sad state of affairs or the educational system.

        If it’s the latter, then we have to look for ways to improve it.

        If it’s the former (the society as a whole is to blame), one question we can ask is, what is the educational system for then, if it’s useless against the existing, corrupt society…if it can’t improve the next generation, without or with funding (like Harvard/Yale)?

        1. trish

          yes, society as a whole is to blame. But how do you extricate racism and poverty and its history and all associated with/arising from, from the failings, the corruption of society as a whole?

          the failure to “wisdom- educate” the wealth/race privileged kids, the Harvard/Yale- educated, the trend to the right of “liberal,” all are surely associated same complex and dirty history that undergirds today’s neoliberal-infused society.

          A big part of that is the right wing/neoliberal noise machine that has been pushing the whole of society to farther to the right so today liberal doesn’t mean liberal and left the same and everything real left is radical left.
          And it’s all about jobs and making money so college kids go for business, marketing, many end up unemployed or working for peanuts, the elite ones head to Wall Street and washington. Society failing except for the ones at the top. Yes, the education system is part of the failings, the corruption, from privatization to debt-slavery to testing to the failing of the kids at the bottom.

      2. mellon

        Re: TISA and public services privatization and globalization.

        Jobs, especially public service jobs, are bargaining chips in these global trade negotiations. “Manufacturing consent” for what by all accounts is radical “liberalisation” by creating crises in education and healthcare that only their extreme measures supposedly can “fix”-

        For more context, one can read “TISA versus Public Services” and “GATS and Public Service Systems” as well as “Divide and Conquer: The FTAA, U.S. Trade Strategy and Public Services in the Americas

        This video is informative as are the 6 others from the same day, uploaded by PSI.

        You can find more to read at Canadian NGO PolicyAlternatives.ca, search in the name of various FTAs, like GATS, for example (or any of these.. NAFTA,FTAA,WTO,TPP,TTIP,TISA).

        And as I said before, one could also find a lot of educational stuff on FTAs by following links from Scott Sinclair’s author page.


    3. Alejandro

      Full disclosure, I’ve never heard of Joe Bageant but imo he was absolutely correct about the use of language.

      “Armed force had failed, the ballot had failed, the courts had taken the side of the conservatives. The Dorr movement now went to the U.S. Supreme Court, via a trespass suit by Martin Luther against Law and Order militiamen, charging that the People’s Government was the legitimate government in Rhode Island in 1842. Daniel Webster argued against the Dorrites. If people could claim a constitutional right to overthrow an existing government, Webster said, there would be no more law and no more government; there would be anarchy.”

      Daniel Webster (of dictionary fame) understood the power of language and was clearly disingenuous about the meaning of “anarchy”.

    4. Working Class Nero

      While the white working class in the US may not have voted for Socialism; their cousins in Europe certainly have and it has not in the least stopped them at all from getting thrown under the globalization bus. So, no, working class people in the US are not voting against their economic interests because such a vote is not yet available to them.

  4. Carolinian

    Worth remembering that the Court has been a mostly conservative force throughout its history and the Warren court was an aberration that liberals may have too eagerly embraced. The worm was always going to turn.

    Michael Kinsley–who sometimes makes a good point–wrote long ago that the left would have been a lot better off if it had lost Roe v Wade…that many states were already legalizing abortion and the rightie outrage over the decision motivated their voters versus the by then complacent liberals. What followed was a wave of high profile Dem congressional losses in the late seventies and the election of Reagan.

    And the irony is that abortion is now barely legal in many parts of the country–even that victory is threatening to unstick.

    Undoubtedly the Court served justice with those important decisions of the mid 20th cent but to the extent that they were making law you can’t say it was very democratic. Are we now in the rightwing political landscape that an earlier Court period helped create?

  5. Bruce Johnson

    The problem with union rules is the one size fits all approach. Ability to organize for better pay and benefits for the worker class is a significant right. Extending this idea to the professional classes can be a disaster. What comes to mind is the “Senior Executive Service” exemplifying McNamara’s concept that one doesn’t have to “know the product” to manage effectively. The Defense and VA departments, for example, are terrible illustrations of job protection in the Senior Executive Service. Doing away with the GS schedule and allowing large government agencies to be managed by clueless managers who can’t be fired for gross mismanagement (VA Hospitals come to mind, along with several navy labs which will remain nameless) needs to be corrected. Unfortunately, this is not the focus of the discussed case.

  6. trish

    Roberts et al, don’t have union family members or friends. They and their fellow elite likely don’t know any of those people. But they all have cell phones.
    Dick Cheney suddenly a (brave conservative!) supporter of gay rights when it turns out his daughter’s one of them. Angela Merkel furious when she finds the NSA’s monitoring HER phone. Hey, it’s all about them and their club.

    And exactly right, identity politics vs.economic justice. the Republican Lites, the Dems, fight loudly for the right to contraception because no threat to economic interests there. Unions…big threat.
    (on the front page Sunday NYT yet another piece on same-sex marriage but on this, nothing).

    What’s sad is how many people at the bottom or close (and getting closer) here in the south have bought into the Top’s propaganda and lies about “right to work.” An army of “rednecks doing the dirty work of the elite,” voting against their own interests.

  7. SBG1

    The Harris case comes out of a move by the public sector unions to have the Pat Quinn administration here in IL enact legislation requiring home health care workers (read: relatives and family members) to become members of the union to continue to get funding for providing home health care (there is some contention over this). It was an organizing overreach, and at the time it was pretty clear it was going to be litigated if it occurred..

    This is just one part of our bigger financial crisis here in IL. It’s really all about the nearly $100 billion in unfunded public sector retirement benefits at just the State level for the different retirement funds.

    Fun times.

      1. impermanence

        If you are going to have BIG government and BIG corporations, then you must have BIG labor unions to balance their power. A living wage must be the priority of the society. Design your economy around this ideal instead of creating a utopian climate for the most dys-functional in the society to steal as much as they possible can.

        An alternative would be much more freedom, in the form of extremely limited government [made possible by the revocation of ALL corporate charters], as a start, and a return to small business, no income taxes [up to ?], but heavy levies on property and other passive income sources.

        1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

          Big Labor is a subset of Big People.

          We need Big People, under which we count Big Labor, Big Children, Big Seniors, Big Students, etc.

      2. SBG1

        Sure, except for a few ‘problems’ along the way. First off, for all practical purposes, the State of Illinois is flat dead busted – broke – as in “no money”. Secondly, they aren’t going to allocate any more dollars, so the available funding gets spread across fewer caregivers. Or, if the State doesn’t do that, they fall back on their other old standby – longer payment cycles.

        We’re just now gets our unpaid backlog down to a somewhat reasonable level, and the ‘temporary’ income tax is going to expire at the end of the year, and then we’ll be headed the other way with our backlog of bills.

        And don’t even waste time on the old ‘raising taxes’ standby. If the Democrats, with a super majority in both houses of the legislature and a Democratic governor, couldn’t/wouldn’t do it, when would you think it will happen.

        So Harris and others really didn’t see any possibility of improvement, except for their being an additional (union) hand being added into the mix taking money out of the pot (union dues), with the practical result being less money (bottom line) for the caregivers.

        That’s reality.

        1. home care supporter

          No, SBG1, your representation is far, far from reality. Consider the reality that Harris et al. have already seen major improvement in their compensation with their representation:

          “Before the union, pay was below minimum wage, said Flora Johnson, who cares for a 47-year-old son Kenneth, who has cerebral palsy. She also chairs the executive board of SEIU Healthcare Illinois, which represents home care workers.

          “It was terrible,” she recalls. “I was at $5.40 [an hour]. I might figure, well, if I pay the light bill, we’ll still have something left over for food. The bills go on no matter what you make.”

          “Now I’m at $11.85, and it’s going up to $13 at the end of the year. Now that we have the union and we can bargain for ourselves, we don’t get everything, but we get something,” Johnson said. “If we didn’t have the union, I don’t know if I could make it.”

          How much public assistance did people require who were making $5.40 an hour? How little were they contributing to our economy? Paying them something close to a living wage not only helps them live a more dignified life, it allows them to contribute to their local economies much more substantially, which provides additional revenue to the State budget.

          Your claim that the flat funding for Homecare in this year’s budget would result in fewer caregivers getting paid is only true in a limited way. An option many States have taken is to slightly reduce the number of hours most Homecare workers are paid, instead of eliminating many workers’ hours entirely. This is not desirable, but it is preferable to freezing their hourly pay at a low rate, as it gives the workers at least some additional opportunity to find additional work. If they work a lot of hours at low pay, they often have no realistic time to take work elsewhere.

          And there’s this:

          “While substandard wages added to stress for family members caring for relatives, they also created problems for seniors and people with disabilities who were cared for by non-relatives, she said. Before the union contract, it was hard to keep good caregivers.

          “Before the union, we had so many turnovers. People would say, ‘I’ve got to leave this job, I’m not making enough money,'” she said. Clients weren’t happy with a constantly shifting array of new faces coming into their homes and attending to their most personal needs. Now outside workers development long-term, caring professional relationships with the individuals the care for, Johnson said.”

          Many States have wisely increased their investments in their Homecare programs, because it allows people to live at home and avoid becoming institutionalized. Being forced to reside in a nursing home/convalescent or rehab facility/hospital typically costs five times more that home care, and the public picks up the vast majority of the expense for the care of those low income people who qualify to become clients for their State’s Homecare program. More revenue, less expenses. Losing effective Union representation will cause our States to lose both benefits.

          Finally, I reject wholesale your presumption that Iliinois’ budget and legislature will remain this dysfunctional forever. That’s what you seem to claim here. It appears that they’re going to wait until after the election to restore revenue sources and/or adjust spending, but those options will be among the many options they will have to increase their Homecare budget.

          Of course, if the Homecare workers’ Union is stripped of power tomorrow by the Supremes, then they will lose power to pressure the Governor and Legislature to make that increase happen. Which, bizarrely, you seem to desire at an outcome.

  8. Jim Haygood

    ‘Attempts by unions to use legislation such as limits to the working day or minimum-wage laws were voided by the courts (until 1937 and the New Deal). … [snip] … If the court follows National Right to Work’s lead, every state in the country would essentially turn into an anti-union “right to work” state.’

    What just happened here, between these bookends 75 years apart?

    First, the US fedgov bullied its way into an issue (labor regulation) where it had no constitutional authority to intrude, and imposed ‘one size fits all’ rules on the whole country.

    Now with a different crew in charge, this centralized authority might be used to take back what was given then.

    Live by the sword, die by the sword. When excessive power is given to central government, the inevitable swing of the ideological pendulum guarantees that its usurped powers will be used against the original usurpers.

    1. ewmayer

      If we’re going to invoke the New Deal in the discussion, it is only fair to note that FDR had markedly different views on public vs private sector unions (bold mine):

      The desire of Government employees for fair and adequate pay, reasonable hours of work, safe and suitable working conditions, development of opportunities for advancement, facilities for fair and impartial consideration and review of grievances, and other objectives of a proper employee relations policy, is basically no different from that of employees in private industry. Organization on their part to present their views on such matters is both natural and logical, but meticulous attention should be paid to the special relationships and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the Government.

      All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service
      . It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters.

      Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of Government employees. Upon employees in the Federal service rests the obligation to serve the whole people, whose interests and welfare require orderliness and continuity in the conduct of Government activities. This obligation is paramount. Since their own services have to do with the functioning of the Government, a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable. It is, therefore, with a feeling of gratification that I have noted in the constitution of the National Federation of Federal Employees the provision that “under no circumstances shall this Federation engage in or support strikes against the United States Government.”

  9. charles 2

    To put a little perspective, Germany is a right to work country. One cannot say that the unions are toothless there…

  10. Carolinian

    Could that be because Germany is so export dependent and their high value manufacturers have a big stake in labor peace? Perhaps the weakness of labor’s position in this country has to do with our hollowed out manufacturing base rather than just central govt laws or supreme court actions.

    Which is not to say the hollowing out wasn’t done in part to screw over labor. Capital likes to be in charge. Masters of the universe. Unions are also a traditional Dem stronghold so the Republicans have a political motive in undermining them even in cases, such as Volkswagen in Tennessee, where the company might be in favor..

  11. mellon

    Wonder where TISA fits into all this? TISA negotiations are proceeding and that threatens NOT to turn almost 40 nations including the US into a single labor market, which would at least give workers the option of moving where the jobs were, no instead what it does is it throws all public jobs into play as privatized globalized contracts subject to international bidding. In some ways its similar to GATS but evidently GATS has not been seen as successful so TISA adds to it. This may decimate public service unions.


    http://www.ei-ie.org/en/news/news_details/2659 (TISA is a threat to free public education)

  12. indio007

    I’m not even breaking out the popcorn for this one. We already know how this going to go. The robber baron days have returned with a vengence. Except now they have MRAPS.

  13. JEHR

    Recently in Canada, the supreme court ruled in favour of the employees of Wal-Mart who wanted to create a union. Wal-Mart closed the store rather than have a union. However, Quebec has a legitimate regard for unions and the Supreme Court of Canada recognized that in its ruling ( http://www.ctvnews.ca/business/scc-orders-wal-mart-to-compensate-workers-fired-from-quebec-store-1.1889144 )

    Unfortunately, our PM does not have a respectful view of our Supreme Court because he implied that the Chief Justice was not acting in good faith when she contacted the Minister of Justice regarding a nomination to the Supreme Court ( http://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/timeline-of-events-in-unsuccessful-scc-nomination-of-marc-nadon-1.1812353 ). The Court has recently gone against a number of laws that this government has passed so the PM does not appreciate that. Harper is planning on changing the rules for public service pensions from defined benefit to shared risk. That will probably be another battle.)

    All I can say is, thank you, God, for an excellent Supreme Court of Canada!

  14. Phil

    Its funny to hear all the Government leach , maggot employees crying in here on this article. The private unions have been completely torn apart, and where were your concerns then? The two curves, one for GOV workers and the other for private workers are crossed curves, with GOV workers salaries headed up on an exponential rise in wages while private workers is headed exponetially down. In the fifties when my father became a Union printer, you had to take a test to get into trade scholl, and then to get a job at a union shop. The dummies who could not pass these rquirement became Cops, Firemen, and Teachers. So, the build up of this giant labor force of GOV workers over the last fifty years is nothing but the largest army the USA has ever had, the Patronage army of lazy GOV workers. Not that they have come for you, where were you when they took us down? Worthless vermin! Payback’s a bitch! Oh, and about the teachers, all we have had is 50 years of Diversity propaganda attacking white men. Teaching is dominated by white women, 90% plus in K-5, and slightly less in higher grades. Thats why the kids are dumb. Did you ever take a good look at the Nasa Space program, we went to the moon, on the brains white men with slide rules. But, that flies in the face of the diversity maggot lies! The H1-B types they bring in now are mindless chimps, otherwise they would have been here sooner, before the Coporations needed code monkeys and other mindless programmers. No, the best and brightest are here, but we continue to import the “Dimmest and the Dumbest”. Its your turn, get ready for it. Enjoy it!

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Wow, talk about fantasy. Did anyone on this thread say they were government employees? I can tell you that of the ones where I know what they do for a living, they aren’t. I guess it is impossible for you to imagine that people who aren’t in unions support them.

  15. Benedict@Large

    Rights of workers to disassociate? Why does the left always get this wrong? What is at stake is the EMPLOYER’S RIGHT to freely contract with their employees. No one forces an employer to enter into a closed shop agreement. Why does a just hired employee have the right to nullify an existing contractual relationship between the employer and longer-term employees? Right-to-work is nonsense governmental interference in the ability of employers to freely contract with their employees.

    1. cwaltz

      Translation: The employer’s right to freely screw over certain employees. You act as if employers should get to decide whether or not employees are allowed to collectively bargain. In reality the resource market is supposed to have equal power to those that need labor. Union shops exist because EMPLOYEES chose to unionize. If employers don’t like that then they can chose to make sure that their labor conditions are good enough that workers don’t choose unions and organization. As Yves points out in her article the reason unions exist is because the people who need labor tend to be a bunch of bullies that would prefer not to have to share or treat people even humanely(as evidenced by the fact that it took unions to create labor laws that set 40 hour work weeks or that disallowed child labor.)

  16. Ed

    Again things are exactly ass-backward in the U.S. compared to what they should be. There should be strong labor unions in the private sector, so private sector employees can bargain with their employers and managers on equal terms. Public sector employees should be protected by laws guaranteeing a neutral and professional civil service, and by the fact that it is in the public interest to not turn the local fire department or social security office into a sweatshop. The fact that there are unions in the public sector at all is a symptom of a serious problem. The fact that unions in the U.S. are mostly limited to the public sector is a travesty. This is not good terrain for the left to defend.

    The article said little about the merits of the case, but I suppose that if people can be fined for not buying health insurance, they can be made to pay dues to unions they don’t want to belong to.

    1. phil

      No, we will be celebrating the right of immigrants to work! You don’t want to be racist, so therefore you can be a slave! With a lot of Media hype throw in for the chumps and chimps!

  17. doug

    my 2 cents. Im glad to see “Public” unions get brought down a peg. When I grew up I remember the idea being you could choose a job at some city service or the DMV etc but the tradeoff was a boring, lifeless job with mediocre pay and none of the flash and excitement or money of “chasing the dream” in the private sector. But you got security in the long run. It was a fair tradeoff that fit some people’s personalities better than others. Now when I see and hear the amounts of money, pensions & job protections these public positions have accumulated over the years my stomach turns. All the benefits and none of the stress. No wonder they fight so hard to keep it all. These relationships are all one way until they blow up. I blame the blow up not on the people throwing off the system but on the beneficiaries who NEVER have enough.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      You’ve got it backwards. The reason the public sector unions look like they have a good deal is that private workers are ground down, and that’s in large measure due to private unions being broken and their no longer setting an anchor for wages and work conditions.

      In general, public workers opted for the “less risk, less stress, less upside” bet and that turned out to be a good bet. Do you also despise people who bought Apple when it was less than $100?

      Moreover, your attitude is exactly what the plutocrats want. Breaking public unions will allow them to squeeze workers, including you, even harder. And you are helping their efforts by fanning the fight among members of the 99%, when we need to work together instead.

      1. oblivia

        Who do public workers need protection from? What could be fairer than democratic institutions making decisions about how much to pay public workers? Why should those workers then get a veto on the democratic choices of the people?

      2. doug

        Thanks for the response Yves. Its only because I respect your opinions so much that I keep coming back to see “what am I missing”. But I cant shake the feeling that the true problem is the ever expanding inflation our policies seem to create. For instance, who can ever retire knowing that basic medical care will cost their entire nest egg? If not today, probably in 10 years. And no, I dont think the answer is who is paying… its that we allow the pillaging of society by the medical industry. I dont think I have it backwards when I see my local lifeguard supervisor making $250K per year and retiring at 50 with 80% pay for life. Instead of allowing medical costs to push the cost of living ever further out of reach (as an example) why not focus on the scam being perpetrated and then at $50K a year job still makes sense.

    2. Lambert Strether

      Reminds me of this old joke:

      A genie appears to a Russian peasant and grants him one wish.

      The peasant thinks hard, then: “I wish my neighbor’s cow would die.”

      1. Anand Richard

        Problem is that a majority of Americans think like Russian peasants. We can also do a thought experiment that can help us conclude that all this brouhaha about ‘revolution is coming’ breathless talk is too premature. Look at the unemployment figure, till it moves to over 40% AND the GOPers also manage to completely ban SNAP and TANF, we are not going to see much of any revolution leave alone people marching on the streets. That $900 billion a year they spend on defense is insurance against the middle classes joining ‘revolutions’. Depressing but that is how it is.

      2. cnchal

        The peasant thinks hard, then: “I wish my neighbors cow would die, because it keeps coming in my yard and eating my grass”.

      3. doug

        Its not that Im some evil creep who wants everyone else to suffer. I have a strong sense that when you work for the public you accept that you will not be the highest paid people in your town. Thats what I see in my town. VERRRRY competitive salaries with the private sector plus all the benefits. If you are a garbage collector you have risen on the ladder relative the the engineer. This is why people identify libertarian. Taken to the extreme you seem to think that some of the lowest skilled worker should be paid the most to “anchor” private sector wages higher. Talk about putting the cart before the horse.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          No, go look at statistics that show that if wage growth had kept pace with productivity growth since 1970, median wages today would be $92,000.

          You keep blaming government workers when rising executive and top level pay and the squeezing of private sector workers are why government workers now look to be relatively well off. You keep blaming the wrong perp.

          1. doug

            Again thanks for the personal response. I dont usually comment because I dont think I can articulate these issues very well. Much like my opinion on cops who never rat out the bad apples but demand unwavering support, public unions will never get widespread support until they are willing to deal with their own corruption. Have you seen the list of retired public employees in CA making $200K plus for life after retiring at 50? Show me that you are trying to reign in the abuses and my opinion will change for the better.

        2. JM Hatch

          In Hong Kong, most people are very happy to see well paid government workers. It sets a benchmark for other industries, and so helps keep pay in general moving up. Next, we want competent people working in government, thank you. You don’t get that paying peanuts and expect people to sacrifice while being insulted.

  18. Tom Skowronski

    I just wish we could emulate some of Denmark’s employer/worker system. They have a separate legal system just for labor disputes with their own courts to settle differences. This system has been functioning well for over a hundred years. The linchpin of the system is that workers will not engage in wildcat strikes, unfair labor practices, etc. and companies will not attempt to break up unions or try to prevent them from organizing. Any violation of these laws ends up in the labor courts.

    These laws were put into effect after a series of bloody strikes and union busting tactics shook up the country in the late 1800’s. Maybe this is why the country is highly unionized and has a minimum wage of about $17/hr.

  19. Steve Roberts

    My wife is a teacher in a state where all teachers have the right to choose whether they join the teachers union. About 65% choose to pay dues but 100% of teachers are represented. Friend of mine was the president of her union. He saw this choice as an opportunity. It meant every year the union had to prove to the teachers why they were doing their job in working for the teachers. When people say that unions have gotten bloated and corrupt, maybe there is a reason for that? My friend had to sell new teachers and resell all the veteran teachers EVERY YEAR. If you never have to prove you are doing a great job, what are the odds you are taking it seriously? When contracts are negotiated they can choose to pass the bill onto 100% of the teachers but their district refuses and it’s covered by only union members. Amazing how CHOICE and FREEDOM are still relevant instead of just fear driven.

    1. ambrit

      And what happens when only dues paying teachers get the new higher salaries, benefits, and working conditions?

      1. Steve Roberts

        It’s not possible for non union members to make a different sum than union members. The labor contract is negotiated by the union and it is binding to all teachers. The unions and the teachers appear completely fine with this set up. Oddly when Wisconsin was shifting to a very similar situation several years ago, the hyperbole was amazing. The end of organized labor and the return to slave labor was predicted even though there is absolutely no evidence of it in my state. I also find it very odd that we can trust our government for almost anything except to treat their employees fairly?

        1. ambrit

          Mr. Roberts;
          That is the present situation. Look, however, at what happened in to the workers at the USPS aftyer semi privatization was implemented. The USPS ended up with three distinct types of worker: regular full time, regular part time, and T class, essentially short term contract workers. Each class had different and distinct salary scales and benefits packages. Separate but equal comes to mind. I’m suggesting that non members and members of the union could easily be split apart and treated differently. It has happened in the past, and is probably happening now.
          As for the slave labor meme, well, each generation has it’s own definition of what ‘slavery’ is. Outright slavery is distinct and easily identifiable. You wear the collar and have no or very limited freedom. How is relative freedom, especially when it includes the freedom to starve if you do not conform any improvement? We do live in an imperfect world. Some imperfections are better than others.

  20. Eric377

    How can right to work laws have no impact on state per capita income but have a $1500/year negative impact on wages? How does that work exactly?

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