The governor of Wisconsin wants to eliminate the ability of civil service unions to bargain for benefits.
In Providence, Rhode Island, because of a deal that has already been established by collective bargaining, the school board basically fired all the teachers, and is in the process of restructuring the school system (decreasing the number of teaching jobs) to allow these newly unemployed teachers to re-apply for the remaining positions.
Unfortunately because of financial troubles both of these drastic measures were perfectly logical.
Taking a step back it is obvious that the unions are to blame. They backed these municipalities into a corner. Unions constantly bargain with management for more money and benefits for workers even though the workers may be unskilled and easily replaceable. Then unions tell workers to strike if their demands aren’t met.
But taking two steps back we see the economic philosophy of capitalism that created the need for unions. Capitalism of the 1800s saw a few individuals, inspired by greed, working people 6-7 days a week; working people 12-16 hours a day; working people in dangerous jobs with no medical coverage; working people until they were too old or weak and then simply discarding them because there was no Social Security or pension fund; moving people to company towns and then paying them with company money (not issued by the United States government), and forcing them to live in overpriced company housing, and buy from the overpriced company store. In such an unbalanced situation unions were begun to give workers a voice and prevent them being worked, literally in some cases, to death.
If unions are bad because there demands are bankrupting state budgets, what can be said of the economic system of capitalism that made unions necessary?
The real problem is not labor unions. The real problem is capitalism. A basic element of capitalism is exploitation of labor. Therefore a basic element of a capitalist society is an unhappy labor force. So a second basic element of a capitalist society are the band-aids companies attempt to use to appease the unhappy workforce: unions, pensions, medical coverage, tuition reimbursement.
The best fix would be to abandon capitalism for socialism. Socialism is a way of life that does not embrace greed as good and therefore guards against greed as being the motivating force in society.
If business is a see-saw then owners/managers are on one side with workers on the other. Capitalism encourages one side to outweigh the other. Socialism aims to keep the see-saw in balance.
Governor Baker of Wisconsin is in a tough position. Because he cannot ensure the state’s budget will always be able to afford a union’s demands, he is logically asking the union to stop making demands (the end of collective bargaining).
But then if he is going to play hard ball with the unions, he should also get tough with big corporations. Unfortunately such a stance would not occur to him in our capitalist system.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County. He is currently working on a book tying together the culture and politics of the Cold War. You can reach him at [email protected].