Friday, December 28, 2007

Krugman on State of the Unions

The Benton County Daily Record has an op-ed piece today by Princeton Economics Professor Paul Krugman on why unions are important for a strong middle class in this country. You can read the full article here, but below is an excerpt.

"Once upon a time, back when America had a strong middle class, it also had a strong union movement.

"These two facts were connected. Unions negotiated good wages and benefits for their workers, gains that often ended up being matched even by nonunion employers. Unions also provided an important counterbalance to the political influence of corporations and the economic elite.

"Today, however, the American union movement is a shadow of its former self, except among government workers. In 1973, almost a quarter of private-sector employees were union members, but last year the figure was down to a mere 7. 4 percent.

"Yet unions still matter politically. And right now they’re at the heart of a nasty political scuffle among Democrats. Before I get to that, however, let’s talk about what happened to American labor over the last 35 years.

"It’s often assumed that the U. S. labor movement died a natural death, that it was made obsolete by globalization and technological change. But what really happened is that beginning in the 1970 s, corporate America, which had previously had a largely cooperative relationship with unions, in effect declared war on organized labor.

"Don’t take my word for it; read Business Week, which published an article in 2002 titled “ How Wal-Mart Keeps Unions at Bay. ” It described the tactics — some legal, some illegal, all involving a healthy dose of intimidation — that Wal-Mart and other giant firms use to block organizing drives.

"These hardball tactics have been enabled by a political environment that has been deeply hostile to organized labor, both because politicians favored employers’ interests and because conservatives sought to weaken the Democratic Party.

"But the times may be changing. A newly energized progressive movement seems to be on the ascendant, and unions are a key part of that movement. Most notably, the Service Employees International Union has played a key role in pushing for health-care reform. And unions will be an important force in the Democrats’ favor in next year’s election." [read more]

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