As I read accounts on the standoff between public union supporters and the governor of my home state, I kinda winced at a word: prosperity. In a write-up about the billionaire Koch Brothers, the NYT cites a letter sent by Charles Koch, appealing to conservative business leaders to engage in future political activism:
“If not us, who? If not now, when?” said the letter, which invited other conservatives to a retreat in January in Rancho Mirage, Calif. “It is up to us to combat what is now the greatest assault on American freedom and prosperity in our lifetimes.”
Prosperity. Defined as ‘a successful, flourishing, or thriving condition, especially in financial respects; good fortune.’ Here, culturally, we now have divergent views of what that even means in its total application. A billionaire writes to other million mcbillionaires beseeching them to engage in political activism against the greatest assault on American freedom and prosperity. What is that exactly? The passage of the health care reform act and subsequent extension of the Bush era tax breaks were key indicators of the end of American freedom and prosperity. The Dow is trading above 12,000 is an indicator, no? Walker has made certain tax concessions for business interests to operate within Wisconsin, concessions that have contributed to the budget shortfall the Dairy State now faces.
At this point in the conflict, we know that Scott Walker’s stance to shore up the state budget deficit does not require ceding the right for public unions to collectively bargain. It’s simply a political power move in a weak economy.
I’ve been thinking about work and quality of life for some time. Beyond my own struggles, but collectively, beyond the concept of the narrative of the American Dream. Balloon Juice’s E.D. Kain hits some major notes for me here:
“Do we want a ‘right to work’ for whatever big business dictates, or a ‘right to work with dignity’? Because that’s what’s being stripped from the American worker more than anything else. With every new round of layoffs and outsourcing, the dignity of the American worker is diminished.”
We’ve read stories about how American wages have stalled over the years, benefits reduced, and total number of hours the average American works (‘in 2005 annual hours worked in the US were 15% higher than the European Union (EU15) average’). We know that we’ve overleveraged our own resources to keep pace with tokens of American dream of prosperity (see: the housing market, credit card debt per household, etc). to maintain that myth of prosperity for the middle class/working class. We take our work seriously. Even when there’s high unemployment. We believe that it’ll lead us to the good life, the prosperous life. Can unionization guarantee that?
And I have complicated feelings about unions. I’ve been a member of a public union and I’ve worked for a corporation. Some unions (see: construction) have been known to be selective in bringing in new members (see: black men). Still, I don’t believe that public unions should be stripped of their right to collectively bargain. If business leaders can create organizations to advocate for their interests (see: Citizens United v. Federal Electoral Commission), why on earth would we not permit workers (public and private) to do the same? I’m seriously searching for an answer on some false equivalency tip (see: liberals, Jon Stewart). I’m loathed to find one. Continue reading