Americans are paying big time now for decades of buying into a hoax.
And it wasn't sub-prime mortgages.
It was the conservative contention that government is evil and inept. Swallowing that absurd assertion resulted in relaxation and elimination of supposedly onerous and unnecessary government regulations - from the ones that prevented banks from growing too big to fail to those that protected union organizers from illegal corporate obstruction tactics.
Unfettered, Wall Street speculators went on a rampage of reckless wagering that ultimately knocked the wind out of the world economy's bubble. With unrestrained corporate threats and interference, union membership declined to 12 percent, although 58 percent of non-managment workers surveyed said they'd like to join a union.
Now, that reviled institution - government - is the only one big and strong enough to rescue the economy that perpetration of the hoax devastated. How ironic. The government must also restore the ability of the American people to organize unions at their workplaces, if they so choose, by passing the Employee Free Choice Act.
President Barack Obama has said he wants to make government cool again. He stood on the steps of the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Ill. on the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth and talked about why the 16th President supported the union and why concerted action is so effective. Speaking of the hoax, he said, "Such knee-jerk disdain for government - this constant rejection of any common endeavor - cannot rebuild our levees or our roads or our bridges."
Common endeavor is the power of unions, whether they be unions of states or labor unions. That is why corporations across America so fear the Employee Free Choice Act. It would ease forming a labor union. It would allow workers - rather than CEOs - to decide whether to create a labor union by collecting signatures from a majority of workers or by a secret ballot election.
Big business is attempting to perpetrate a second hoax on America - that the Employee Free Choice Act is no good. They've been flying a bunch of anti-union lobbyists to Washington to pressure politicians to vote against it. Sounds a lot like CEOs jetting to D.C. in private planes for bailout money.
The bailout money will, of course, come from the pockets of working Americans who those very CEOs don't want to unionize. And after decades when the policies of the government-is-evil-hoax meant wealth accrued to the very richest, it turns out that the economy would have been better served if wealth had been more evenly distributed.
More workers with more money to spend means more cars and houses and All-Clad pots and pans bought. Those purchases keep other workers employed, who spend more money.
When those workers are unionized, studies reveal two important statistics. One is that they earn 30 percent more than non-union workers. The other is that they are 59 percent more likely to be covered by employer-provided health insurance. So, in the end, unionization is good for the economy.
That effect was acknowledged in 1935 when the National Labor Relations Act was passed to encourage unionization and collective bargaining. It occurred in the midst of the Great Depression and followed decades rocked by lesser economic "panics" causing runs on banks.
The NLRA "Declaration of Policy" says this about this law: "The inequality of bargaining power between employees who do not possess full freedom of association or actual liberty of contract, and employers who are organized in corporate or other forms of ownership association, substantially burdens and affects the flow of commerce, and tends to aggravate recurrent business depressions, by depressing wage rates and the purchasing power of wage earners."
Simply put, employers wield considerable strength, and workers must be able to unionize so wage and benefit negotiations occur on a more even playing field. There's power in common endeavor.
In 1935, in the depth of the Great Depression, the government encouraged workers to use their power to obtain better wages. It did that because better wages to many would help end the depression for all.
Since then, corporations and CEOs - the perpetrators of the great government-is-evil hoax -- have also chipped away at the NLRA. They've seized from workers the ability to determine how unions are formed.
And they increasingly harass workers trying to form unions. In 2007, employers illegally harassed or coerced 29,000 workers. In the 1950s, companies illegally punished fewer that 1,000 workers a year for union activity. Thirty-six percent of workers who voted against a union said they did so because of pressure from the employer, according to an NLRB survey of 400 election campaigns in 1998 and 1999.
Just like in 1935, workers now need unions to help them secure better wages, which will, in the end, be good for the country because it will improve the economy.
For that to happen, though, the Employee Free Choice Act must pass. Workers must have the right, once again, to choose how they want to form their own organizations.
In Obama's speech in Springfield, in which he discussed the union of states, he quoted Lincoln on the purpose of government, saying, "The legitimate object of government is to do for the people what needs to be done, but which they can not, by individual effort, do at all, or do so well, by themselves."
In this quote, labor unions could be substituted for government: "The legitimate object of unions is to do for the people what needs to be done, but which they can not, by individual effort, do at all, or do so well, by themselves."
That is why workers must vanquish the new hoax being perpetrated by conservatives, greedy CEOs and other labor union-haters. Workers must win the freedom that they had in 1935 to choose how to form their unions. Labor unions give workers the ability to do what needs to be done but which cannot be accomplished by individuals. And that includes bargaining for the better wages that, when spent throughout the economy, will help end the current great recession.
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