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Quite the World, Isn't It?

Some thoughts on unions, and the battle for relevancy

As you can imagine, I've watched the events unfold in Michigan this week with a deep sense of dismay, and not a little anger. It also gave me pause to think about how organized labor has become the scapegoat for the nation's economic ills.

Labor has, for the most part, lost the PR battle with big business. From my piece today in The Daily Beast:
Somewhere along the way, unions became the scapegoat in these fights. They drive up the cost of doing business, we hear, though unmentioned is that higher wages mean a stronger local economy. Unions are corrupt, we hear, though that’s a hard stone to cast for anyone living in a glass mansion built by the banking and investment industries, or with the ill-gotten gains from corporate insider trading. Even odder is to hear that argument from working-class people, who have bought into the notion that “right to work” actually has something to do with workplace freedom.

This is where the union movement has its biggest problem, not with the wealth of the Koch brothers and their stealth campaign to undermine unions, significant as that is. It’s in persuading working America that organized labor isn’t the stuff of history, that they do indeed need the mutual protection of collective bargaining, and that embracing “right to work” is against their best interests, not a blow for personal choice.
I didn't get into it in the piece for space reasons, but another facet of this is labor's tight relationship with the Democratic Party, which I suspect costs it some support among the growing political independents. Remember, it was the Democrats in the Clinton Administration who brought us NAFTA, and the Obama administration has done little to counter the flow of jobs overseas despite the emphasis Obama placed on that issue in both elections. Yes, the Democrats are better for organized labor than the Republicans, but the GOP sets a low bar for comparison.

Coincidentally, I just finished writing about the William McKinley administration in the manuscript for my Jones's Bones: The Search for an American Hero book. Just over a century ago, the Republicans paid significant attention to the plight of the working class. That began to erode quickly over the next few Republican presidents, but it has been nice to mire myself in a time when workers weren't the scapegoat - even for the Republicans - for the effects of governmental and corporate policies that have left the economy in shambles.
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