07/11/2012 09:04 pm ET | Updated Sep 10, 2012

Has the One-Percent Already Won This Thing?

Evidence that things are far worse than we ever dreamed can be seen in John Q. Public's increasing resentment of labor unions. Twenty-five years ago people who argued with me (and I had these arguments every single day) about the contributions of organized labor used to maintain that unions were "bad" because they were either (1) too anti-democratic and dictatorial, or (2) too "corrupt" (i.e., mobbed up or otherwise "crooked").

But back then, few workers suggested that unions weren't beneficial, or that they weren't devoted to the interests of working people or, considering the stark alternatives, that they weren't, in fact, "necessary." Rather, their gripes were confined to the "procedural," to the way unions were run. Or to be more accurate, to the way they perceived unions to be run (because, in truth, people often confused "corruption" with simple laziness and inefficiency).

Unfortunately, that's changed radically. While you still hear noises about "corrupt union bosses," what people complain about today it that labor unions are "elitist." It's true. Shocking as it may be, America's working people actually use the E-word when referring to other working people -- to people who, by virtue of a union contract, have managed to stay above water, who've managed to retain decent wages and benefits, and haven't fallen victim to the biggest money grab since the Gilded Age.

At first this attitude seemed more a manifestation of petty jealousy or schadenfreude. But the more you hear, the more it appears the public believes that working people who feel they're entitled to decent wages and benefits somehow regard themselves as being "above the rest of us," and should, therefore, be knocked down a peg or two. Instead of a union contract serving as a goal to attain, they see it as an insult, a humiliation.

When you try to explain that without unions to prop up our wages and benefits, we'd all be subject to the inevitable downward pull of market forces, which, given the surplus of labor, means that many of the middle and lower-middle class would not only remain stagnated but would slide inexorably toward the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour (which, incidentally, many Republicans find too generous and wish to abolish), people bristle.

They bristle because they place an inordinate amount of faith in the motives of corporations and in the curative powers of the so-called Free Market. They honestly believe the rich wouldn't be motivated to exploit the rest of us, because such a thing, somehow, wouldn't "be productive." And they bristle when you use the innocuous phrase "surplus of labor," because, as they remind you, "That's what Karl Marx said!!"

Grim as the prospect is, maybe the one-percent has already won this thing. With the poor now cheering for the rich, the plutocrats' wildest and most ambitious fantasies have been realized. Not only have the rich succeeded in convincing workers to root against labor unions -- the one and only institution dedicated to their welfare -- they've convinced them to fight for the interests of the wealthy rather than the interests of their own tribe.

Holy Mother of Jesus, this makes no sense. And it's not simply politics. This transcends political ideology and voter booth privacy. Rooting for the rich is crazy. It's not only illogical and impractical, it's unnatural. Indeed, it's tantamount to the chicken population of the United States naming Colonel Sanders its "Man of the Year."

David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright and author ("It's Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor"), was a former union rep. He can be reached at