Saturday, September 01, 2012

As Unions Die, So Does The Middle Class

There's a lot of talk these days about defending the middle class. Politicians of all stripes claim they are the champions of the middle class.. But everyone knows that the middle class is disappearing -- because the post World War II social contract has been broken. Tom Walkom writes in today's Toronto Star that:

More to the point, depression and war led to the unstated social compact of the Cold War: Government would allow unions to organize; corporate employers would let workers keep more of what they produced; unions would oppose Communism and maintain social peace.

The reasons for labour’s decline from the 1970s on are well known. Manufacturing has moved to low-wage countries. Non-manufacturing industries are harder to organize.

Neo-Conservatism has destroyed North America's manufacturing base and left workers with low paying service jobs. Politicians claim that they are creating jobs. Unfortunately, those jobs don't pay a living wage. And so, on this Labour Day, there will be little to celebrate. Now the politicians are taking on their own workers, insisting that austerity is the way to prosperity:

Governments haven’t yet figured out how to outsource their own employees to China so they are taking on unions by fiat — as Toronto city council did with its garbage workers and McGuinty is doing with teachers.
As unions disappear, so do well-paying, secure jobs. When labour is strong, even non union shops pay well — just to prevent themselves from being organized. When labour is weak, that pressure evaporates. As unions disappear, so does the middle class.

And when the middle class collapses, economies collapse. The folks in the middle simply do not have the money to buy the goods and services which business produces. And, until what is left of the middle class -- and those in the lower class -- rise in anger, the downward spiral will continue.


Anonymous said...

I wish the general public was more willing to accept (acknowledge) the benefits of unions.

What have the unions ever done for us? A whole lot...

Owen Gray said...

A fantastic clip, Anon.

Unfortunately, our historical memory has become pretty weak. So much goes down the "memory hole" so fast.

ChrisJ said...

BC is poised to privatize the BC Liquor stores, and many are so-o-o excited about the reduction in prices.

My (admittedly limited) experience in Alberta is that things are only minimally cheaper, but the store owners pocket the difference between the fair union wages of the workers and those of minimum wage employees.

The dollar we might save on a bottle of wine or case of beer, we will have to make up in increased city taxes down the road most likely - and it will be more than a dollar!

Owen Gray said...

Unions have been caught by penny wise and pound foolish policies, Chris.

As one of my son's former professors liked to say, "The price is low because someone else is paying."

Willie McGee said...

I am just not sure what to do about this. There is so much anti-union sentiment from the poor and middle class. How far gone are we all going to be before these people realize they have been screwed.

Owen Gray said...

As long as those who could benefit most from unions believe that they are better off without them, Willie, the juggernaut of the rich and the powerful will continue.