Thursday, March 31, 2011

2011-03-31 "Equation in Wisconsin was used in Vallejo" letter by John Riley to the editor of "American Canyon Eagle" newspaper
Jon Riley is executive director of the Napa-Solano Central Labor Council.
I recently had the unique opportunity to address a group of History and Economics classes at a local private high school. I was asked to address the students on the history of unions and how the current events sweeping the country impact their lives. One student asked what would it be like if we did not have unions?
As I looked out at the 40 or so students the first thing that came to mind was that I would be addressing a totally different looking group of students! I told them that the fact that the racial makeup of the class in front of me was reflective of our society as a whole, a very diverse group of young men and women that make up the melting pot we call California, and that unfortunately the students I would be addressing in that situation would probably look a lot more like me, white.
So let’s reflect on the question. What would it be like without unions? Based on the fact that organized Labor has been instrumental in raising the financial status of all workers in this country, union and non-union alike, and also factor in labors role in the success of every civil rights movement in this country’s history from the suffrage movement, the struggle for racial equality to the gay rights and immigration battles that continue today, one would only be left to guess what gains we would have enjoyed if the “organized” were removed from “organized Labor.” Pretty meaty stuff for a group of 17 and 18 year olds with their whole lives ahead of them, but they seemed to make the connection that what is transpiring in Wisconsin is about a little bit more than getting a budget balanced.
But if it is not about keeping employee costs in line then what is all the commotion about? Well some argue, and I happen to agree, that this is about using political influence to punish your enemy and silence their ability to speak with one voice. It is about paying back your political supporters to further an agenda. Just old fashioned politics! We have seen it happen every time we have a change in the majority of the leadership of any national, state, county and city elected body. If they can convince those with little or nothing that those with a job with benefits are the cause of their current situation, they keep the focus away from their political backers who in some cases not only refuse to pay their share of taxes, but also just perpetrated the largest financial fraud in the history of our country.
Our government, federal, state and local all run on taxes, and if our largest banks and corporations pay less taxes than an average worker, or attempt to control revenue sources, then it becomes a little problematic when trying to provide the services that all of us have come to expect. But then when you factor in that the single most expensive costs in providing those services is the workers’ salaries and benefits and that the cost on the benefit side of the equation is tied directly to the stock market (remember that little fraud thing), of course those costs are going to skyrocket and appear unsustainable! And if we can use questionable news sources to convince the people that those wage and benefit costs alone are bankrupting our communities, while at the same time, through legislation, take away the one organized voice against those same abuses, you have just accomplished what the railroad and industrial barons attempted to do but failed. But more importantly for them they have also taken away their political opponents most organized and funded resource as they fight to protect the civil rights fought for over two generations. Remember the equation: cut off the funding source by eliminating the tax base through deregulation and shelters or driving away business, plus use an increase in the cost of employee benefits caused by fraud and abuse of Wall Street to blame the workforce, plus turn public opinion against them through a corrupt news source, (multiplied by) using the legal or legislative process take away their ability to collectively bargain equals game over!
So then what? Well, I guess we will find out the answer to the question “what if there were no unions,” and in the process find out how important they are to the advancement and protection of our civil rights movement in this country. And I will let you in on a little secret; I know how it turns out because I saw the same equation used right in Vallejo.

No comments:

Post a Comment