The Most Dangerous Union in the World

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Several commentators have remarked about the sudden outbreak of class struggle in the United States. I see the brutal behavior of the state and federal governments as an indication of the failure of class struggle.

Let me explain. Back in the 1960s, when the United States was enjoying the so-called Golden Age of economic prosperity, profits were weakening. By the late 1960s, the organized right-wing began to harness the energy of the Tea Party of the day, which took hold with the defeat of Barry Goldwater. Using its almost unlimited source of funding, wealthy businesspeople and corporations began to create a solid network of organizations to remake the country by undoing the gains made during the New Deal, and even emulating the political landscape of the late 19th century. The Cato Foundation, the Heritage Foundation, right-wing legal offices, and a host of other activist operations led a systematic assault on anything and anybody who seem to know represent a barrier to profit maximization.

This movement was extraordinarily successful, so much so that they even co-opted the Democratic Party, which had previously offered a meek resistance to business demands. By the 1990s, the results were clear to anybody who bothered to take notice of the economy. On the eve of the Great Recession, the results were so obvious that only the most stubborn ideologues could fail to see that virtually all of the economic growth since 1970 had been captured by a very small elite. I told this story in a book entitled The Confiscation of American Prosperity: From Right-Wing Extremism and Academic Economics to the Next Great Depression, published in 2007, just as the stock market peaked.

The ideological justification of this confiscation was that business prosperity would create a tsunami of productivity by following the right-wing regimen. The entire population would benefit.
Productivity did increase — not spectacularly — but which is still stagnated. Job security eroded. Protections previously guaranteed by regulatory agencies or the law quickly disappeared.

Despite the idea that the economy somehow suffered from an over burden of taxes and regulations, the more these hindrances to prosperity fell by the wayside, the worse the economy performed. Profits became concentrated in the financial sector, but much of the rest of the economy faltered.

Scapegoats had to be found. Already, during the Nixon administration, the right-wing became adept at recruiting working-class support, using racism and cultural discomfort as fuel. Ironically, one of the first groups successfully recruited were craft unions, a minority of whose members attacked antiwar demonstrators. A parade of scapegoats march across the political landscape. Braless hippies, Blacks, unwed teenage mothers, welfare recipients, immigrants, and now public workers, especially teachers.

The results were always the same. The right would win more victories. The overall economy would still perform sluggishly. And the next scapegoat would step forward. Even when the culprit is obvious, scapegoats still must be found. For example, with the collapse of the financial scams in 2007, blame was shifted to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and even more ridiculously to an obscure rule that had been passed two decades earlier.

For example, private-sector unions became virtually powerless on the national scene. In this environment, jobs disappeared. Disappointed union members would be vulnerable to the relative prosperity of public sector workers, who had pensions and medical coverage. Similarly, people who had lost their pensions to fraudulent banking schemes often became more upset with the relatively comfortable conditions of public sector workers.

One union stood out by its successes. It is not generally called a union, but so long as we can abuse reality by calling corporations people, we can call the Chamber of Commerce a union. This union is so powerful that the present United States must come before as a humble supplicant. This union was at the forefront of the deconstruction of the New Deal.

The time has come to stop blaming the victim. Somehow, we have to learn to fight back in this one-sided class warfare. We have to learn to explain that more of the same medicine that made us sick is not going to cure us. We have to learn to identify the architects of this disaster — the political manipulators, the right-wing foundations and their benefactors, and if we want to begin a legitimate fight against unions, let’s start with the Chamber of Commerce.

Michael Perelman is the author of several books including Rail Roading Economics and the just published Invisible Handcuff of Capitalism: How Market Tyranny Stifles the Economy by Stunting Workers. An early draft of the 2nd Chapter of Invisible Handcuffs is available here, and Michael also did an interview for the Left Forum in New York where he talks about the book. This post is being republished from his blog Unsettling Economics with permission.

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2 Responses

  1. Pope Epopt

    March 29, 2011 9:38 pm

    The local branch seems to have negotiated extraordinary pay and conditions for its members.

    Nice work if you can get it.