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The Fall of the House of Labor

Comment

In 1958, Senate Minority Leader William Knowland, his eye on the 1960 GOP nomination coveted by fellow Californian Richard Nixon, went home and declared for governor.

Knowland's plan: Ride to victory on the back of Proposition 18, the initiative to make right-to-work the law in the Golden Land. Prop. 18 was rejected 2 to 1. Knowland's career was over, and the Republicans were decimated nationally for backing right-to-work.

Badly burned, the party for years ran away from the issue.

This history makes what happened in Michigan, cradle of the United Auto Workers, astonishing. A GOP legislature passed and Gov. Rick Snyder signed a right-to-work law as libertarian as any in Red State America.

The closed shop, where a worker must belong to the union before being hired, is dead. The union shop, where an individual must join the union once hired, is dead. The agency shop, where a worker cannot be made to join a union but can be required to pay dues if the union is the agent negotiating the contract for all workers, is dead.

Michigan just legislated the open shop.

And behind the blue-collar bellicosity in Lansing is this new reality. Non-union workers can now "free ride" on union contracts. This is close to a non-survivable wound for labor.

Workers who do not belong to unions will cease paying dues, and union members will begin quietly to quit and pocket their dues money.

Why pay dues if you don't have to? Why contribute a dime to a union PAC if you don't have to, or don't like labor's candidates?

Michigan workers are not going to suffer. They have simply been given the freedom to join or not join a union, to pay or not pay dues. And while wages in right-to-work states such as Virginia, Tennessee, Texas and Florida are slightly below those of other states, employment in right-to-work states is higher.

For these are the states where domestic and foreign investors look to site new plants. The BMW assembly plant is in Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C., the Mercedes plant in Tuscaloosa, Ala., the Volkswagen and Nissan plants in Tennessee. As Gov. Rick Perry boasts, Texas has been the biggest job creator in the Obama recession.

But union power is going to be circumscribed as non-union workers elect to free-ride and union members start resigning. And just as Michigan saw Indiana creating jobs after passing right-to-work, other states may observe Michigan and go forth and do likewise.

There are now 24 right-to-work states. But while these laws arrested the rise of the house of labor, there was an inevitability to its fall. Who are the collective killers? Like the murder on the Orient Express, just about everyone on the train.

First came automation. A third of U.S. workers were unionized in the 1950s. But with new technologies, we discovered we did not need so many men to dig coal, make steel or print newspapers. We did not need firemen riding in the cabs of diesel locomotives.

A second blow came with the postwar rise of Germany and Japan. Their plants and equipment were all newer than ours. Their wages were far lower, as they did not carry the burden of defending the Free World. Under our defense umbrella, they began to invade and capture our markets.

And Uncle Sam let them do it.

A third blow to Big Labor, concentrated in the Frost Belt, came from the Sun Belt. With air conditioning making summers tolerable, the South offered less expensive and more reliable labor than a North where union demands were constant and strikes common.

But the mortal blow to American unions came from globalization.

With the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and China propelling hundreds of millions of new workers into the global hiring hall, U.S. multinationals saw historic opportunity.

If they could move factories out of the U.S.A., they would be free of union demands, wage-and-hour laws, occupational health and safety laws, environmental laws and civil rights law. By outsourcing, they could produce for a fraction of the cost of doing so in the U.S.A.

And if they could get the U.S. political class, in return for corporate generosity at election time, to let them bring their foreign-made goods back to the U.S.A., tax and tariff free, profits would explode, and salaries and bonuses with them.

The corporate establishment and political establishment shook hands, the deed was done, and the fate of U.S. industrial unions sealed. So came NAFTA, GATT, the World Trade Organization, MFN for China, free trade with all.

And with globalization came trade deficits unlike any the world had ever seen, a loss of one-third of U.S. manufacturing jobs in the last decade, a U.S. dependence on foreign-made goods almost as great as in colonial days, the enrichment of our corporate and financial elites beyond the dreams of avarice, and the decline and fall of the house of labor.

Unions are dying because, in America, economic patriotism is dead.

Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of "Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?" To find out more about Patrick Buchanan and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2012 CREATORS.COM



Comments

18 Comments | Post Comment
I think workers being forced to pay union dues is anti-freedom and unamerican. Why should workers be forced to pay union dues that are funneled into democratic coffers whose ideas they might not believe in. I understand that back in the days of horrible working conditions, unions were needed, but things are so much better today. Working conditions are better because of unions, but now that they are that way they won't go back to being crappy, unions or not. Working conditions will always be high for one because we are a richer, more advanced nation and also because companies know that happy, safe employees are better for the bottom line. And I have crediability on this issue because I am a union worker who wants out of this trap. I am forced to support Obama and his thugs just to work in my chosen profession.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Chris McCoy
Fri Dec 14, 2012 6:47 AM
Re: Chris McCoy

Working conditions won't go back to being crappy? Because companies know that happy, safe employees are better for the bottom line?
Really?
I cannot determine if this is simply willful ignorance or if your gift for sarcasm is just too subtle for me to comprehend.
Comment: #2
Posted by: ABarkus
Fri Dec 14, 2012 9:35 AM
ABarkus. I believe Chris means that there are so many State and Federal laws on the books that protect workers and mandate conditions that it is not likely that companies will let working conditions drop. Soon the last bastion of unionized labor will be in the Government. Another place that makes no sense.
Comment: #3
Posted by: david
Fri Dec 14, 2012 11:50 AM
Wow david,
Can I take this as a "david" endorsement of government control of working conditions? If not, what do you see protecting the workers in a conservative / libertarian paradise? Abarkus has a good point. Welcome to the corporate controlled future.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Mark
Fri Dec 14, 2012 12:15 PM
This is the 21st century people. Modern companies don't expose their workers to unneeded dangers. They know that lawsuits and a bad reputation are worth the costs of spending more on safety. I worked for two companies, Amazon and Tyco, that were absolutly bat-nuts crazy over safety. They love it like nothing else. I promise you, unions and government aren't the ones keeping people safe.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Chris McCoy
Fri Dec 14, 2012 5:47 PM
"economic patriotism is dead"
.
As well it should be when our hard work funds tyranny.
Comment: #6
Posted by: cathy jones
Sat Dec 15, 2012 10:58 PM
"economic patriotism is dead"
.
As well it should be when our hard work funds tyranny.
Comment: #7
Posted by: cathy jones
Sat Dec 15, 2012 10:58 PM
Re: Mark. I believe Chris is partially right. Most unions have become corrupt and of highly questionable value to those whose dues they survive on. Most. There are notable exceptions, e.g., the Ironworkers, who continue to produce value not only to their members, but the companies who hire them and are willing to pay sky-high union wages (no pun intended) because of the high quality and value of the work.

My suspicion is that these right-to-work laws are going to force the unions to take a hard look at what value they actually are really delivering to their members. In the end, the tougher environment for them may well force them to redefine themselves so that they win over the dues payers, and perhaps even consumers, by the sheer value of what they deliver.

That said, if unions go completely away, and there is no counterbalance to corporate greed, the middle class will be in a lot of trouble. You know the old separation of powers thing that is built into our Constitution? The check on corporate power mounted by unions is just about all we have to prevent corporate corruption from taking the money and running. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Comment: #8
Posted by: Masako
Sun Dec 16, 2012 12:53 PM
Re: Mark. I believe Chris is partially right. Most unions have become corrupt and of highly questionable value to those whose dues they survive on. Most. There are notable exceptions, e.g., the Ironworkers, who continue to produce value not only to their members, but the companies who hire them and are willing to pay sky-high union wages (no pun intended) because of the high quality and value of the work.

My suspicion is that these right-to-work laws are going to force the unions to take a hard look at what value they actually are delivering to their members. In the end, the tougher environment for them may well force them to redefine themselves so that they win over the dues payers, and perhaps even consumers, by the sheer value of what they deliver.

That said, if unions go completely away, and there is no counterbalance to corporate greed, the middle class will be in a lot of trouble. You know the old separation of powers thing that is built into our Constitution? The check on corporate power mounted by unions is just about all we have to prevent corporate corruption from taking the money and running. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Comment: #9
Posted by: Masako
Sun Dec 16, 2012 12:53 PM
Re: Mark. I believe Chris is partially right. Most unions have become corrupt and of highly questionable value to those whose dues they survive on. Most. There are notable exceptions, e.g., the Ironworkers, who continue to produce value not only to their members, but the companies who hire them and are willing to pay sky-high union wages (no pun intended) because of the high quality and value of the work.

My suspicion is that these right-to-work laws are going to force the unions to take a hard look at what value they actually are delivering to their members. In the end, the tougher environment for them may well force them to redefine themselves so that they win over the dues payers, and perhaps even consumers, by the sheer value of what they deliver.

That said, if unions go completely away, and there is no counterbalance to corporate greed, the middle class will be in a lot of trouble. You know the old separation of powers thing that is built into our Constitution? The check on corporate power mounted by unions is just about all we have to prevent corporate corruption from taking the money and running. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Comment: #10
Posted by: Masako
Sun Dec 16, 2012 12:53 PM
Re: Mark. I believe Chris is partially right. Most unions have become corrupt and of highly questionable value to those whose dues they survive on. Most. There are notable exceptions, e.g., the Ironworkers, who continue to produce value not only to their members, but the companies who hire them and are willing to pay sky-high union wages (no pun intended) because of the high quality and value of the work.

My suspicion is that these right-to-work laws are going to force the unions to take a hard look at what value they actually are delivering to their members. In the end, the tougher environment for them may well force them to redefine themselves so that they win over the dues payers, and perhaps even consumers, by the sheer value of what they deliver.

That said, if unions go completely away, and there is no counterbalance to corporate greed, the middle class will be in a lot of trouble. You know the old separation of powers thing that is built into our Constitution? The check on corporate power mounted by unions is just about all we have to prevent corporate corruption from taking the money and running. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Comment: #11
Posted by: Masako
Sun Dec 16, 2012 12:53 PM
Re: Mark. I believe Chris is partially right. Most unions have become corrupt and of highly questionable value to those whose dues they survive on. Most. There are notable exceptions, e.g., the Ironworkers, who continue to produce value not only to their members, but the companies who hire them and are willing to pay sky-high union wages (no pun intended) because of the high quality and value of the work.

My suspicion is that these right-to-work laws are going to force the unions to take a hard look at what value they actually are delivering to their members. In the end, the tougher environment for them may well force them to redefine themselves so that they win over the dues payers, and perhaps even consumers, by the sheer value of what they deliver.

That said, if unions go completely away, and there is no counterbalance to corporate greed, the middle class will be in a lot of trouble. You know the old separation of powers thing that is built into our Constitution? The check on corporate power mounted by unions is just about all we have to prevent corporate corruption from taking the money and running. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Comment: #12
Posted by: Masako
Sun Dec 16, 2012 12:53 PM
Re: Mark. I believe Chris is partially right. Most unions have become corrupt and of highly questionable value to those whose dues they survive on. Most. There are notable exceptions, e.g., the Ironworkers, who continue to produce value not only to their members, but the companies who hire them and are willing to pay sky-high union wages (no pun intended) because of the high quality and value of the work.

My suspicion is that these right-to-work laws are going to force the unions to take a hard look at what value they actually are delivering to their members. In the end, the tougher environment for them may well force them to redefine themselves so that they win over the dues payers, and perhaps even consumers, by the sheer value of what they deliver.

That said, if unions go completely away, and there is no counterbalance to corporate greed, the middle class will be in a lot of trouble. You know the old separation of powers thing that is built into our Constitution? The check on corporate power mounted by unions is just about all we have to prevent corporate corruption from taking the money and running. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Comment: #13
Posted by: Masako
Sun Dec 16, 2012 12:53 PM
Re: Mark. I believe Chris is partially right. Most unions have become corrupt and of highly questionable value to those whose dues they survive on. Most. There are notable exceptions, e.g., the Ironworkers, who continue to produce value not only to their members, but the companies who hire them and are willing to pay sky-high union wages (no pun intended) because of the high quality and value of the work.

My suspicion is that these right-to-work laws are going to force the unions to take a hard look at what value they actually are delivering to their members. In the end, the tougher environment for them may well force them to redefine themselves so that they win over the dues payers, and perhaps even consumers, by the sheer value of what they deliver.

That said, if unions go completely away, and there is no counterbalance to corporate greed, the middle class will be in a lot of trouble. You know the old separation of powers thing that is built into our Constitution? The check on corporate power mounted by unions is just about all we have to prevent corporate corruption from taking the money and running. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Comment: #14
Posted by: Masako
Sun Dec 16, 2012 12:53 PM
Re: Mark. I believe Chris is partially right. Most unions have become corrupt and of highly questionable value to those whose dues they survive on. Most. There are notable exceptions, e.g., the Ironworkers, who continue to produce value not only to their members, but the companies who hire them and are willing to pay sky-high union wages (no pun intended) because of the high quality and value of the work.

My suspicion is that these right-to-work laws are going to force the unions to take a hard look at what value they actually are delivering to their members. In the end, the tougher environment for them may well force them to redefine themselves so that they win over the dues payers, and perhaps even consumers, by the sheer value of what they deliver.

That said, if unions go completely away, and there is no counterbalance to corporate greed, the middle class will be in a lot of trouble. You know the old separation of powers thing that is built into our Constitution? The check on corporate power mounted by unions is just about all we have to prevent corporate corruption from taking the money and running. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Comment: #15
Posted by: Masako
Sun Dec 16, 2012 12:53 PM
Re: Mark. I believe Chris is partially right. Most unions have become corrupt and of highly questionable value to those whose dues they survive on. Most. There are notable exceptions, e.g., the Ironworkers, who continue to produce value not only to their members, but the companies who hire them and are willing to pay sky-high union wages (no pun intended) because of the high quality and value of the work.

My suspicion is that these right-to-work laws are going to force the unions to take a hard look at what value they actually are delivering to their members. In the end, the tougher environment for them may well force them to redefine themselves so that they win over the dues payers, and perhaps even consumers, by the sheer value of what they deliver.

That said, if unions go completely away, and there is no counterbalance to corporate greed, the middle class will be in a lot of trouble. You know the old separation of powers thing that is built into our Constitution? The check on corporate power mounted by unions is just about all we have to prevent corporate corruption from taking the money and running. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Comment: #16
Posted by: Masako
Sun Dec 16, 2012 12:55 PM
Masako, great comment, but posting it once would have sufficed. Just kidding. I know the website sometimes double posts comments, but this is a little crazy.
Comment: #17
Posted by: Chris McCoy
Mon Dec 17, 2012 6:31 AM
Re: Chris McCoy. It's Southwest Airline's funky Wifi is all I can figure. This has to have set a record.
Comment: #18
Posted by: Masako
Tue Dec 18, 2012 9:00 AM
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