I am not a unionist.
Nor a communist, free-market economist, capitalist, Democrat, Republican, Liberal Democrat, Conservative, Liberal, or any other political label that you might wish to pin upon unsuspecting thinkers who dare to express an opinion on politics.
I very much dislike these labels — but that is for another time.
For now, it seems sufficient to say that I am not a unionist. I am neither the member of a labour union, nor do I offer unfettered, unconditional support for any labour union. That being said, I also recognise that unions play an important role in the dynamic between a large employer and its employees. When the ability of employees to unionise and bargain collectively is revoked, it is difficult to see it as anything other than a prelude to exploitation via the resulting power imbalance.
While preparing for this morning’s coffee, I discovered the article about Montana’s denial-of-global-warming legislation. And then I remembered the Planned Parenthood and Wisconsin Union articles I had recently read — too Google I went, to track down the relevant articles. When I wrote Wisconsin union into the Google News search bar … shock. The results were littered with right-wing, anti-union headlines. There were no neutral headlines (“Unions protest against proposed new Wisconsin law”), or left-wing headlines (“People of Wisconsin shut down legislature in response to proposal to take away rights of union members”). Instead, it was all right wing schlock.
Is this truly a representative sampling of today’s American media?
The top headline was Union bullies shut down Wisconsin legislature in effort to block fiscal reform. This is, of course, from a right-wing propaganda outfit — we have no idea how they manage to make the cut for “Google News”, nevermind end up at the top of the search results.
But the backwardness of it astounds us — those who invoke their legal right to protest a change in law are labelled as “bullies”, while those who are invoking the power of the state to restrict their ability to work and earn are the ones being “bullied”. We think that that the folks at the National Legal and Policy Center may need a new dictionary.
They even term the new law “poetic justice”.
The website heritage.org has slightly more balanced coverage, which makes it all a bit tricky. It paints the new legislation as painful, but needed, and the union members as ultimately clueless.
The problem with the heritage.org point of view is that the government is simply legislating these changes — they are taking away the workers’ right to negotiate, and replacing the deals in place with new deals via legislation.
This is fundamentally unfair.
If workers need to have their pay rises capped and contribute more towards their pensions, because their employer is in financial difficulty, this seems like a matter for negotiation between the employer and the employee. Legislating away collective bargaining rights and existing deals is not about addressing budget deficits, it is about attacking unions.
Renegotiating contracts and collective bargaining agreements is reasonable — although it would certainly still cause some outrage in certain quarters. Usurping a negotiating process in which you treat your employees with respect for one in which the employer changes their terms of employment on a whim, and the employee has no recourse?
It would be criminal, if the government were not the ones doing it.