THE BLOG

Will American Workers Believe Governor Walker? Stay Tuned!

02/20/2011 06:25 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The genius of the Republican Party has been to convince workers that it is better to support business interests than it is to defend the rights of workers. Republicans have convinced citizens to vote for the GOP largely by focusing on social issues instead of economic ones -- gay marriage instead of raising corporate taxes, abortion instead of improving health benefits, and so on.

So far they have done pretty well, but will they actually be able to convince the rank and file that a union is a bad thing? Governor Walker of Wisconsin has thrown down the challenge by trying to end collective bargaining as we know it.

How do you get ordinary American workers to look at collective bargaining and think it is some kind of communist-inspired concept? Well, first you generate anger at unionized workers' salaries and benefits. You point out that union pension funds provide comfortable retirement packages. You exaggerate a financial crisis, and then you point to the frivolity of having decent, hard-working Americans fund such benefits for state or city workers.

Of course the point you try to obscure is that if all workers were unionized, they all would have similar wages and benefits. But that point is obscured because corporate-funded, anti-union propaganda has succeeded in reducing the percent of unionized workers in the US from around a third of all workers 25 years ago to 12 per cent now. The exit of industrial jobs from the US to places where conveniently there are no unions, the rise of the service sector, where contingent labor can be used, along with dramatic union busting by the likes of Walmart, all insure that low wages, poor working conditions, and no (yes, that is no) retirement benefits exist for most workers.

Even since the robber barons, the rich have hated unions. Organizations like the Chamber of Commerce are dedicated to untrammeled free enterprise, and unions are the enemy because they get in the way of the freedom of business to do what it pleases. It now seems according to Forbes magazine that the mega-rich Koch brothers have funded much of the mayhem in Wisconsin.

Governor Walker, and the governors of Indiana, Ohio, and Tennessee, are just the interchangeable straight men for those who want to entirely eliminate unions. A fact made clear yesterday when the Wisconsin labor unions conceded on all the economic issues, but were sent packing because concessions is not what Walker sought. He wants complete defeat of the unions.

There is hope, however, with the push back from Wisconsin citizens, we see that ordinary folks aren't falling for the narrative that unions are evil. They know that if you destroy collective bargaining you will be eliminating the single foundation that labor has to stand on. Without being able to argue collectively, each worker will have to stand alone. And a worker who stands alone is a worker who has no rights. Somehow I don't think that is what the average American worker wants.