I’ll be the skunk at this party, what the hell. I don’t know how to cheer-lead.
The lefty-liberal-progressives of the US of A are pumped up by the show of defiance by public sector workers in Wisconsin; and other states are following suit with demonstrations and Democratic state legislators on the lam. Even the Egyptians are wearing cheese-head hats. I am proud of the Wisconsin workers, and that’s why my prognosis is all the sadder. They were undercut years ago by the Democratic Party and their own leadership.
The unions and the public workers are going to lose. I’d love to be proven wrong, and maybe my math is no good, but even if they don’t lose this one, the trade union movement in the United States has been a dead letter for quite some time now. This will be another triumph of ideology for the right, and a political triumph for the right, too – no matter how Pyrrhic the victory in the truly terrifying scheme of things for the next generation.
When the trade union movement decided to join itself at the hip with the Democratic Party, they brought this on themselves. They consistently spend members’ money on Dem politicians, making them a direct target of the Republicans, who represent many anti-union interests already, but who had now been given a direct political stake in busting the unions.
Business unionism, nationalism, and bureaucratism ensured that the hierarchy of the trade union movement would call to the hierarchy of the political party. Everyone became players in a game that the unions quite simply could not win. Union resources are a Piper Cub against the business class’s F-16. In no time at all, the unions came to depend on the Democrats, and on elections, instead of facing of against employers directly and without the legal sanctions that they accepted ever since Taft-Hartley.
Democrats pushed through one neoliberal measure after another, undercutting the unions, and like an abused spouse that can’t leave, union leadership sent their members back again and again to vote, vote, vote Democratic.
Enough grousing. Here are the numbers.
In 1945, at the peak of US union density, 36% of US workers were represented by a union. Today, that number is 11.9% and falling. Last year, it was 12.3%.
In 1945, non-agricultural, private sector workers represented 33.9% of union membership nationwide. Public workers were 9.8%. Today, 36.2% of union workers are public workers, and non-ag private sector workers are 6.9%.
Total US union membership today is around 16 million, in a population of 307 million, with around 150 million on-the-books as workers. Loose math, but you get the picture.
The highest union density is in New York with 24.2%. The lowest is North Carolina with 3.2%. Wisconsin is 14.2%; and Wisconsin voters – knowing damn well that Republicans are anti-union – elected Scott Walker as Governor with 52.3% against Tom Barrett, who received 46.5% of the 2010 Wisconsin vote. Even long time Senator Russ Feingold was displaced by Republican Ron Johnson in a 51.9% to 47% race.
The Wisconsin Democrats are so powerless that a few can do is disappear while Walker fires state workers. There’s not a thing else they can do; and Walker can completely ignore the noisy crowds outside his door.
The workers who used to have the ability to turn off the tap on the economy – production, transportation, and materials moving – are a mere 16% of the union total nationwide, their latent power irretrievably diluted. School teachers can’t do that; and there is a vast reservoir of underemployed young people with Master’s Degrees.
The political consequences will be marginal for Republicans. Polls now show that only 48% of Americans support unions at all; and 51% believe that unions “hurt the economy.” That is how successfully the neoliberal ideology has been grafted onto our psyches.
This national Republican campaign was launched fully cognizant of the balance of forces, and the reason they went green-light on it is because the numbers worked.
It’s a real shame. And we seem to know that Republicans will be Republicans. We ought to, criminy! When will we learn what the Democrats are, and how for decades they have prepared this historic defeat of workers.
I hope they prove me wrong.