THE BLOG
07/15/2013 08:32 am ET | Updated Sep 14, 2013

How the GOP Hopes to Take Away Americans' Right to Collective Bargaining

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The right to collective bargaining in the workplace is a human right -- just as fundamental as the right to free speech or the right to vote.

It is enshrined in the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights that was adopted in 1948.

Three quarters of a century ago, our country passed labor laws that gave every worker the right to organize a union in their workplace to negotiate wages and working conditions with their employers.

When the largest percentage of private sector workers were in unions in the 1950's, the economy grew and the gap between high and low income Americans dramatically dropped in what economist Paul Krugman calls the "Great Compression."

Collective bargaining and growth of the labor movement were the principal engines that led to the creation of the American middle class -- the growth of wages, the 40-hour work week, and the weekend.

The reason collective bargaining is so fundamental should be obvious. Markets are good at allocating many resources in an economy. But left to their own devices they do a terrible job distributing the fruits of production among the people who create products and services.

Economic history shows irrefutably that without collective bargaining, the rich get richer and everyone else gets poorer. Unless workers have the right to bargain as a group over wages and working conditions, employers have every incentive to hire workers who will work for the lowest possible wage in the worst possible conditions. And in a globalized economy with literally billions of increasingly skilled workers in developing countries, there is always someone who is willing to do the same job for less.

In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2012 union members had salaries that were -- on the average -- 20 percent higher than their non-union counterparts.

The only way to protect middle class incomes in the United States is to protect the precious right of collective bargaining and to extend it to most Americans. In fact, we would all be much better off if every worker in every place of employment could exercise their right to collective bargaining -- the same way we are all better off when everyone has the right to vote.

But for over three decades Wall Street and the largest corporations have waged an incessant war to effectively take away our ability to collectively bargain. The percentage of private sector jobs covered by collective bargaining agreements has shrunk from 35 percent in the 1950's when middle class wages were on the increase, to only 6.6 percent in 2012.

The one bright spot has been public sector workers, where 35 percent had collective bargaining rights in 2012. And everyone has seen the overt assault on public sector collective bargaining that Republican politicians have waged in state after state.

The Right Wing's campaign against collective bargaining is all about one thing -- allowing a tiny segment of our population to siphon off more and more of the country's wealth and leaving less and less for everyone else.

The reason the GOP wants to strip the rights of public sector unions is to cut taxes on the rich.

And the reason Wall Street and CEOs want to eliminate collective bargaining and unions is because they want to keep more money for themselves and give less to the workers who actually produce the products and services that are created by the companies they own -- it's that simple.

That kind of rapacious, unbridled greed may be good for them, but it spells disaster for the middle class and the broader economy. If worker incomes don't go up at the same pace as increased worker productivity -- their ability to create more products and services per hour -- then there ultimately won't be anyone with the money to buy the products and services they create and the economy will stagnate and collapse. Henry Ford knew that very well, when he said he wanted to pay his workers enough to allow them to buy the very cars they manufacture.

For the last several years, Senate Republicans have unleashed an insidious new plan to eliminate our right to collective bargaining. The GOP has abused Senate "filibuster" rules to prevent up or down votes on the President's appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that enforces the labor laws that allow ordinary people to organize and engage in collective bargaining.

Without theses appointments, the NLRB does not have a quorum and cannot make rulings -- effectively ending the enforcement of labor laws in the United States. And that is exactly the GOP's goal.

This week Senate Democrats will likely bring a vote to the floor that would modify Senate rules and put an end to the GOP's stealth attack on labor law enforcement by requiring an up or down vote on President Obama's appointments to critical federal posts -- including the NLRB.

That rules change would also stop the GOP's efforts to undermine the Wall Street Reform law that seeks to prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial meltdown.

The GOP has used every trick in the book to prevent the approval of a permanent director of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). That's because the law requires that in order for the CFBP to use its full powers to crack down on the abuses of big Wall Street banks, that a permanent director must be appointed by the President and approved by a majority of the Senate. The President appointed an outstanding director, Richard Cordray -- the former Attorney General of Ohio -- and a majority of the Senate has been prepared to approve his appointment for months.

But the minority Republicans have prevented an up or down vote on his appointment as well. They are holding his nomination hostage at the behest of Wall Street, and demanding that the law be changed to weaken the agency's power to prevent precisely the kinds of abuses that lead to the financial collapse and precipitated the Great Recession.

The GOP leadership has attacked this rules change as a Democratic "power grab." In fact, the new rule is about ending Republican obstruction -- demanding that appointments be given up or down votes -- invoking the most fundamental premise of democracy: majority rule.

The real power grab has been the way that big Wall Street bankers and high-flying corporate CEO's have stolen the economic security of most Americans. In fact, a tiny minority of very wealthy Americans has seized economic power in America and is doing everything they can to prevent the majority from reclaiming their economic rights.

By standing up to Republican abuse of rules in the Senate, Democrats will be standing up to the economic abuse inflicted on most Americans by a tiny minority of unelected, wealthy speculators and CEOs who think they are entitled to be "masters of the universe."

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com. He is a partner in Democracy Partners and a Senior Strategist for Americans United for Change. Follow him on Twitter @rbcreamer.