Thursday, September 17, 2015

Labor Day

Labor Day has come and gone, so I thought this would be a good time to remind readers of how this country treats unions and the working class. Given the disingenuous way unions are usually portrayed it the media, along with the incessant harangue from Republicans, many Americans have been convinced that unions are an unmitigated horror. The message has been so relentless for so long, millions of Americans have grown up hearing no other narrative except that unions are a blight. In turn, they have accepted the corporatist argument that slashing the pay, benefits, and job security of the working class is the way for America to move forward. That and another round of tax cuts for the wealthy.

Right-wing analysts, who have an agenda, talk endlessly of costs, corrupt union bosses, and how corporations' profits are hurt. Mainstream journalists, many of whom are feckless if not especially conservative, will parrot right-wing talking points uncritically. What they often leave out is what it means to families and neighborhood where workers have somewhat higher paychecks than they would otherwise. Small businesses, which Republicans claim to support, are happy for the extra business their neighbors' larger paychecks allow. Local and state tax revenues rise as well because workers have more disposable income, and thus put more back into the local economy. In other words, employees with cash to spend make good customers; those with minimal discretionary income make poor customers. And every employee is someone else's customer.

Closely related is the greater job security that unions have historically provided. Many Americans have been told inability to shed workers has been a costly burden, ignoring the fact that the American economy has consistently been among the most competitive and productive; our corporations are among the most profitable. We are now learning what citizens in less developed countries have always known: When you are underpaid and don't have job security, you hunker down. You focus on the most elemental needs and try to save money. There is, of course, little to save, whether it be for emergencies or retirement--and millions no longer have a pension like their fathers did. If you are scared of losing your job because your boss is a prick, and is constantly threatening you, just remember that non-unionized Americans, and that is most of us, now have little legal protection. Americans have some of the lowest job security in the OECD, a development that was entirely intended.

As for those retirement plans, especially the public sector ones that turn Republicans apoplectic, one should ask, even if few in the media do, why there is so much willingness to scaremonger the costs and so little effort to account for the ways people benefit because someone in the household has a retirement check; a check that contributes to the family and the neighborhood.

I recall some sneering comments made on Face Book a while back by a man who supported Tea Party policies. I recall that he was incensed over California's state employee retirement obligations. The figure he threw out I no longer recall. He may have been correct; it certainly seemed like a lot of money. But what I do recall is there was no context; it was just assumed to be an outrageous amount. All cost and no benefit.

It should be obvious, but apparently isn't, that the dollar amount means little if the number of retirees, and their dependents, are not accounted for. Or the number of years the total obligation is spread over. Or how many other family members benefit from the relatively large retirement checks. Or how many are able to stay off welfare as a result. Multiplier effect, anyone? Dollars spent by unionized civil servants, active or retired, go back into local economies where they act as a far better economic stimulus than austerity or tax cuts, both conservative favorites.

California state retirees, who are mostly middle-class, also pay taxes on that income, which the state and the feds are very good at collecting, unlike that of the very wealthiest, who are very good at avoiding taxes, even if it means putting their extra billions, or even trillions, in offshore tax havens. When is the last time you read, not some polemic from the Left, but a fair analysis in your favorite news source, of how the very wealthiest duck taxes and what it means for the rest of us?

These are simple economic principles; low wages are a drag on any economy, but especially one dependent on consumer spending. What do you honestly think will happen if, for decades on end, wages are suppressed for most of the working and middle classes, pensions are eliminated, job security and benefits are reduced, and millions have become compliant, overworked, and scared because they cannot risk losing their shitty jobs?

Silly me, you blame the victims, of course.

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