Saturday, February 19, 2011

Workers of the World, Unite

The unrest in Wisconsin - legislative conflicts that have led Democrats to literally flee the state - is troubling for the apparent impasse it presents in an ideological battle about the rights of workers, especially public employees. There is such contempt for government right now that the average voter is not very sympathetic to the collective bargaining rights of workers - if they work for the government. The biggest problem in this Wisconsin budget battle is that the state workers have done nothing to lead to the deficit problems. Like much of our government budget issues, Wisconsin is in the hole almost entirely because of lost revenue, not expanded pay and benefits. This is a troubling and divisive issue well articulated this week by Ezra Klein in the Washington Post.

The Democrats and the state workers are willing to negotiate the benefits issues - as they should. Even if state workers are making less than the public sector - and they are - no one should be exempt from contributing to pension and benefits programs. And if it were that simple the Democrats would be back and voting. Yet, this attack on the rights of workers to collectively bargain is simply unacceptable. There has been an erosion of wages and consumer power among the middle class - including state workers - for more than two decades now. And it is accelerating.

No economic recovery is going happen in the American economy unless workers needs are reasonably addressed by employers and situations. The whole thing reminds me of the cold, heartless action of Josiah Bounderby in Dickens Hard Times when dealing with Stephen Blackpool and the organizing of "The Hands"in the factories. Despite Bounderby's portrayal of the workers as lazy bumpkins who seek to avoid work while dining on turtle soup and venison stew with their gold spoons, the average American - the average person - is always and forever looking for an honest day's wages for an honest day's work.

And that cannot be compromised.

13 comments:

Happy Elf Mom said...

I think the point others are making is that the REST of us can lose our jobs at any time for almost any reason. And the rest of us are already contributing to our own retirement, etc.

You're right, though: the workers didn't cause the problem. But there's the perception out in the general public that the union members (esp. teachers) are sopping it up at public expense. I don't think it's true to the DEGREE some people claim, but it's also a fact that teachers' job security and benefits are out of line with "the rest of us," if you will. :)

mazenko said...

I will not.

That is a generalization which misses the point. Teachers jobs remain as long as people keep sending students to school and requesting certain class sizes and services. Beyond that, public employees have generally accepted salaries that are 20% below private sector averages in exchange for more generous benefits.

Anyone can lose a job at anytime, yes. And if any of those workers seek more security they should organize. In fact, the decline in collective bargaining has corollated with a stagnation in wages and spending power over the past thirty years. The perception of "sopping it up at public expense" is wrong, and that's what my post meant to address

Happy Elf Mom said...

I don't imagine this "decline in collective bargaining" is the sole reason, say, I can't find good clothing that is made in the USA in any reasonably-priced catalogue. I can't even find it in the more expensive catalogues, though I suppose I could Etsy everything if I wished to. "Look for the union label?" Well, maybe I am just not seeing it, and I would prefer to buy American. What happened there? I honestly have no clue.

I also don't imagine that if my computer programming husband and his buddies got together and "organized," that these companies wouldn't just scoot overseas where the price of living is far lower and hire locals in India. Things aren't always so simple as "just organize."

Though we do agree that the perception that teachers are somehow living in opulence and practically stealing is flat-out wrong. The "gravy train is over" thing I see in the news is more than a little mean-spirited and smacks of outright jealousy. I do think, though, that it is unreasonable in the long-term to expect taxpayers will continue to vote for increased education expenses if they know teachers and administrators will receive far more benefits than they can hope for themselves. That's just political reality.

Interestingly, no one seems to be angry about plumbers or electricians. Your thoughts?

mazenko said...

The lack of USA made clothing is a reflection of those jobs moving overseas, as America's cost of living is too high for employers to pay fair wages when a greater margin is available abroad. Workers begged Phil Knight to open a Nike factory in the US and pay workers $10-20 an hour. He could have done it, but his profit would decrease. Corporations cut wages, jobs, and benefits even as productivity increases and that increases stock prices and allows them greater profit and dividends.

My neighbor wasn't thrilled about the $300/hour for a frozen/burst pipe in her basement ... but that is what the market provides. And people acknowledge the tangible benefits. When it comes to the benefits of good roads or efficient courts or a working power grid or clean water, people simply expect it and have little understanding that the services they are so comfortable with actually take a lot of hard work and money.

That is the problem for state workers - it's called the submerged economy because people aren't aware of the work behind it. They just expect it - and bitch when it's not perfect.

steven said...

"Teachers jobs remain as long as people keep sending students to school and requesting certain class sizes and services".

Michael, that's got to be one of the dumbest things I've ever heard you say, unless you only mean it to only apply to private school teacher's jobs. The government subsidizes public schools via forced extractions from taxpayers, creating a powerful disincentive for privately (voluntarily) funded schools. So it makes perfect sense that most people would pay once and send their children to public schools instead of paying twice and sending their children to private schools. The only way you don't understand that is if you just don't want to understand it, because you benefit from the present arrangement.

mazenko said...

And I have the same feelings about your comment. The taxpaying public overwhelmingly supports public education and the taxes necessary to fund it. While I respect much of your libertarian ideas, you are way off base on this one.

steven said...

If you really believed that, Michael, then you would advocate giving individuals a free choice about how their money is spent (on everything - not just on education). But you don't want to take that risk, because you're afraid that other people won't make the choices that you want them to make. You would rather that the state dictate how people spend their money. I'm always skeptical when someone else wants to limit my choices, because I know that it's not for my benefit. It's always for someone else's benefit.

mazenko said...

No man is an island, Steven. And part of a republic is accepting that all will benefit from services from schools to roads to police. You might choose to opt out of paying for police services or roads but clearly benefit from and even call on them. Join the human race.

steven said...

Michael, you're assuming that those service will be either offered by the government or not at all. That's a faulty assumption. Police and roads and education were available long before government ever offered them. And I'm not suggesting that any man is an island. We have always been dependent on each other. The more advanced society has become the more dependent we are on each other. I'm suggesting that we don't need to resort to using force to interact with each other, except when aggressors threaten or harm us. So let others make their own choices, unless those choices threaten or harm you or yours. To live any other way is not civilized. If one's ideas for improving society are so good, then they don't need to be forced on anybody. Let's live as a civilized society.

mazenko said...

Of course, Steven. Tell me all about your experience with those non-government roads and police. I hear Somalia has some excellent examples. Taxes and organized republican government is the foundation of modern civilization - precisely the safe secure society in which you live and then naively challenge the value of. Unless I'm wrong and you have some personal experience with this non-governmental free, respectful, civilized society. If you have the longitude and latitude of this Xanadu, please let us know

steven said...

In other words, Michael, you have no argument except to say that you don't think society could work without a government that has the right to use force against innocent people. That's your entire rationale for the right to use force against people who aren't doing what you want them to do, even though they're not doing you or anyone else any harm. You don't try to address any of my objections, because you can't. Instead you just change the subject. Just like the religious fundamentalist.

mazenko said...

I have the history of the United States and the entire modern civilized world, not to mention personal experience living and traveling abroad where less organized government fails to rule. And I mention it specifically with details each time we argue. And you respond with references to small scale communities of the obscure past, which have little relevance to modern nations. Like Thoreau, I do believe in and hope and wait for that day when "man is ready" for no government. And I embrace it whenever I can. Though, I live with one foot in the real world. And I put a hand out to my fellow man, with another on my wallet. Thus, lumping me in with religious freaks is disingenuous and you know it.

steven said...

I wouldn't make that comparison if it was being disingenuous to do so, Michael. I see a strong similarity between your belief in the legitimacy of government authority over individuals and the religious fundamentalist's belief in god's authority over man. Just as religious fundamentalists have no evidence or rational argument to support their beliefs, you have no justification to advocate for the use of force against innocent people. The only reason you do so is because they have something that you want to use for your own purposes. If that wasn't true then you wouldn't need to advocate for the use of force.