Saturday, June 9, 2012

Unions United?

 As the first governor to win a recall vote, Scott Walker has made history. But is that really a good thing? First, the reasons behind it. Going into the initial election, Walker promised to revise the budget and bring Wisconsin back into economic prosperity. One of the largest things draining the state budget was the payrolls and pensions promised to state workers and union members back when the economy was bull. True to his word, Walker immediately passed legislation that stripped many workers of collective bargaining rights and public benefits with the rationale that these widespread cuts would prevent layoffs and save 37 million per year and a total 165 million in debt restructuring.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker put into place
labor restrictions to remove debt and restructure the
            But this motion was a particular jab at the unions in place in Wisconsin. Prior to these laws, all workers within Wisconsin in particular fields were automatically were made part of the unions. Legislation passed and rescinded this, far reducing the pull of the union both in resources and numbers. But the consequences were much farther reaching than that. The concept that a governor could so limit the power of unions to save his state—if allowed to continue—could spread to other states. In response, the unions put huge amounts of money into forming a petition for a recall vote that would remove Scott Walker and send a very clear message: “The unions have the power and attempts to take it away are not welcome”. Gathering over a million signatures and sending thousands of protestors, the recall vote was finalized. However, despite the massive push to oust Walker, this Tuesday, he was victorious. But what exactly does this mean? Those who oppose him claim that his narrow victory margin--53.2% to 46.3%--didn’t adequately represent the far greater economic clout he held over democratic opponent Tom Barrett: namely, raising 45.6 million as opposed to Barrett’s 17.9.
Protestors marched against Walker, but the majority
of the state still voted for him, implying a
conservative, anti-union sentiment.
            This battle is just a small-scale representation of the presidential war going on right now. As a focal point of the country right now, the fact that Walker—a republican candidate in a traditionally democratic state—was able to raise so much money (mainly from out of state wealthy donors) demonstrates a nationwide support for the Republicans and the new ideology that they seem to represent: breaking consolidated union power and revamping the economy by removing deals. The fact that President Obama did not visit Barrett did not go unnoticed either, as his presence associated with a democratic loss is not something that his campaign wants.
            Yet, while it is admirable that Walker stuck to his promises despite threats and protests, it is still to be seen whether his reforms make the desired impacts. The question is: are the unions a power that really needs to be stopped? It could be said that union density in countries nowadays really is having a negative impact on the economy. Take for instance, the majority of Europe which has a union density of around the 60 to 80% range. But while they’re fiscal difficulties are greater than the United States, that does not seem large enough to correlate to the discrepancy in union density of most European countries (around 70%) to the United States (12%). And China, who is in the midst of an economic boom has a union density of 90%. On the other hand, all of these unions are very different, Europe has a total union that is not specific to trade and has optional entry. The primary union in the United States, AFL-CIO, utilizes craft unionism and has had mandatory membership everywhere up until Scott Walker’s legislation.
AFL-CIO, the largest U.S. union, has strongly
opposed Walker's attack on its promised deals
and policies which are bankrupting Wisconsin.
            Reducing these benefits may not complete fix the system but it could be an important step. Diminishing union power may break the monopolies they hold and raise the wages of non-union workers elsewhere. Additionally, by ending such a inflated wage rate it could bring manufacturing and jobs back to the United States. The original purpose of unions was to protect non-skilled workers from being taken advantage of during the Industrial Revolution, the long-term consequences of their existence however have driven the United States into debt it cannot handle. With all the political backlash it implies, it seems that soon other states will follow suit in an action to reform their policies and who knows? Reducing the power of the union may be more beneficial for workers than the unions themselves ever were.

No comments:

Post a Comment