Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Explaining the Re-Unionizing of America

 "Dis-Organized" Labor in the 21st Century
Think of it as capturing slaves in Africa
 or maybe just as a early dawn rabbit hunt

Many of MeanMesa's visitors are too young to have effective memories about what the US economy was like when unions were much more prevalent than now. Yet, these same young visitors perhaps see various images posted on Face Book or other social media enumerating the quite significant advantages to both union workers, but also to non-union workers and the country's well being generally.

Here are a few examples of what these young visitors might be seeing.

[image source]
[image source]
[image source]

Right away, considering the relentless savagery currently being inflicted on US workers during the on-going oligarchic coup, these "not from the age of organized labor" young minds can look through these great middle class benefits derived from union labor contracts and conclude that somehow "re-unionizing America" would be a fabulously good idea.

Although this old codger is far too old to be included among those who could possibly claim to be "not from the age of organized labor," MeanMesa would still strongly agree with their conclusions. Having lots of active unions was good for the country then, and it would be good for the country now.

In fact, having a substantial increase in the percentage of workers who were unionized might actually represent the most promising, single "available" opportunity which could possibly still counter the nation's descent into the bizarre, dynastic regression currently mapping our most likely course in both  the near and longer term future.

Unions could change this. Organized labor established the foundation for the masses in the middle class years ago, and it could do the same thing again.

However, without any hesitation whatsoever, MeanMesa realizes -- in fact, remembers -- that labor unions, while offering this possibility, had plenty of warts and wrinkles of their own. Some of the warts and wrinkles were pretty serious, too.

The Era of US War Lords:
 Union Bosses, Capitalists, Mobsters,
 Politicians and Banksters
Times of economic plenty brought a little more tolerance...

Six or seven decades ago Americans could look at statistics comparing the US economy to all others in the world to see just about all areas of activity far above the nearest competitors. This position, at the time, appeared to be quite durable. This unmatched prosperity was not exclusively the result of having a robust portion of workers in unions. Many other factors -- notably the destruction and rebuilding of WWII, advancing technology for all sorts of manufactured products and the early signs of faltering in the Soviet Communist model -- were important contributors.

Importantly, during this time there was money flowing through just about all the layers of the US economy in previously unparalleled amounts. Some of the "civics lessons" responsibilities began to seem less important than before.

A new crop of billionaires and corporatists were emerging -- both were considered something of an economic and ideological accomplishment. Federal deficits, abhorrent before the Axis aggression scared the pants off voters, became far less painful, growing in time to become the "new normal." Likewise, the idea of "bringing home the political bacon" grew from a low level, curious phenomenon to a massive "Congressional industry."

What had traditionally been limited to financing a few questionable local bridge projects became a lumbering ten digit scheme for trade agreements, tax loop holes, unfettered military procurement contracts and dozens of similar, on-going, legal "General Fund extraction" scams.

Because the US economy during this period was primarily driven by manufacturing, the two "principal players" -- labor and management [the term "management" generally replaced the slightly more suspicious moniker of "capitalist"] -- very predictably began "acting badly."

Union leadership, in many cases, fell under the thrall of organized crime interests, but the descent was tolerated because union wages were good and job security was strong. On the other side, business interests became obsessed with doing everything possible to recapture the high labor costs and convert them to profit. One "wild card" in the mix was the fact that organized labor workers supplied powerful ground troops for political campaigns -- campaigns which often enjoyed substantial union contributions.

Union membership had been declining steadily since the early 1900's, but by around the time of the Reagan years it was clear that the billionaires had won this contest when then President Reagan fired 11,000 striking air traffic controllers. [Read more here.]The decimation of organized labor in the economy emerged "into the light" with this very direct Presidential and Congressional antagonism -- and action.

Unions and Middle Class Income [image source]
While the chart [above] details the correlation between middle class income and union membership, the more important conclusion appears when we look at "where the money went." The economy has been cranking out wealth at a more or less steady rate for all these years. In the earlier part of the curve middle class Americans were steadily accumulating a respectable increase in wealth thanks to high wages.

However, the blue line [above] shows an equally steady decline in the rate of middle class "wealth growth" as the billionaires' strategy of gradually transforming what had been good wages into profit continued to develop. Middle class "wealth" comes from middle class pay checks. The amount on those pay checks is determined by the wage being paid.

US Politics and Growth of Oligarchy [image source]
A central feature of the billionaires' strategy was based on their growing influence on the Congress. That influence is firmly founded on public opinion issues such as a mistrust of government, propaganda inciting the political obstruction of normal government ["normal" in the sense that "every tax payer gets something"] and the resulting "necessary" -- at least if we are going to do this -- paralysing polarization of media driven, domestic politics.

The chart shows that this has worked very well for America's ambitious oligarch "wanna-bes." They apparently missed the chapters describing the historical outcome of such a process in, say, the French Revolution or the Soviet Revolution.

So, What Can Be Done Now?
It isn't quite organized well enough for guillotines yet...

Now that all the "chips are on the table" for interested American voters to see, there remains very little mystery about what the picture shows. That "interest level" has been steadily increasing, too, as previously "less interested" voters get more and more bruised and mangled by the corpse-like US economy, apparently permanently assigned to a rolling stretcher in the hall way outside the critical care ward.

This may be "one of those things" which are easy to complain about, but which become rather complicated when it's time to propose a solution. There is no shortage of complaining, but MeanMesa finds the vacuous hopelessness accompanying most of it rather disheartening. Either the situation itself or the desolate, depressing lamentations about it might be enough to, sooner or later, find oneself having come full circle back to the "guillotine idea."

We should at least try a few other things before we settle on that solution.

Just like MeanMesa's naive Face Book friends, it's an appealing fantasy to simply "revert" back to the organized labor days of the past and wait for all the benefits to begin materializing. It won't be that easy. Not only are there now a clutch of incredibly rich billionaires who, aside from owning the Congress, would rather die than start paying living wages, there is also a long list of economic and industrial "structural problems" we have picked up by neglecting this for so long.

Some of the items on the chart [below] show clear advantages to the economy and society from the re-unionization process, but some of them also show necessary "pre-conditions" required to make re-unionization a real possibility.

Perhaps the first and most important of these "pre-conditions" doesn't actually have a place on the chart. That would be the acknowledgement by the billionaires that their very successful wealth redistribution scheme has left the consumers they rely upon without enough money to consume very much at all.

Importantly, essentially no one now has enough power to persuade or coerce these billionaires to consider things in this way. When you're that rich, you don't tend to listen much.

As children these "trust funders" may have been taught not to care one whit about what the poor people did, but as adult billionaires and oligarchs, they might come to their senses, realizing that for consumers to consume -- a process required, at least in the short term, to sustain their precious dynastic wealth -- American buyers will need to have enough change left in their pockets to actually buy something.

[Note from MeanMesa: "Short term?" Actually the oligarchs' dream goes on quite a way beyond this to a point where they become "totally purified parasites," receiving a portion of every penny ever spent for anything in the country whether the particular transaction has anything to do with their personal empires or not. At this point the oligarchy becomes self-sustaining and permanent -- that is, "permanent" until violently dislodged by a class war induced revolution or, perhaps, by a cataclysmic reorganization due to climate change. Think of what conditions finally ended the suffocating economic grip of the European mercantile royalty in the 1600's.

Finding some less destructive means to alter the current course becomes quite desirable, but destructive and violent or not, the current course -- one now recklessly careening toward complete oligarchy --  will, inevitably, be altered.]

 Stopping the Oligarchy
One pay check at a time

MeanMesa suggests that re-unionization and the corresponding increase in middle class wealth could, in time, change the path of top end wealth consolidation ["wealth inequality"] and the economic and political "dynasty building" which is presently consuming the US democracy. The representative political process to which we might have previously -- during better times -- looked for solutions is now the undeniable "property" of precisely the influences causing the problem.

While it may seem quite unlikely for the foreseeable future that we might see much of a change in this dangerous development, it may be worthwhile to look again. The "unlikely" part is that the oligarchs currently controlling the government might relinquish some of their ambitions to allow even a marginal return to the old "free market opportunity" model.

However, that "unlikely" development may actually not turn out to be what is absolutely required to begin the transformational process. We must remember -- the wealth of oligarchs still depends on a functional US economy. Current trends in the economy are beginning to suggest that consumers' discretionary purchasing power, still so vital to the health of corporations and billionaires, is steadily plummeting.

The 40% reduction in the fundamental wealth of the middle class which occurred in a matter of one or two months in 2008 didn't help much.

Relief may emerge from Congressional action. If the owners of Congress should decide at some point to relent, at least temporarily, in their onslaught of looting the economy, they might instruct the "elected representatives" to pass legislation to re-invigorate it, hoping to sustain their wealth and protect what remains of their consumer market.

This is where it gets interesting, and, possibly, slightly more hopeful.

"Easing up" on their efforts to permanently cripple organized labor is an idea which might start looking more attractive. If we had an actual Congress, all sorts of really constructive legislative ideas could come into play rather rapidly. But even if all we had  was a Congress still roughly the same as the one we have now but one which had been instructed to resurrect the economy to the benefit of its owners, the "locked box could still be opened" -- even if only a little bit.

The following chart suggests some of the benefits which might be possible should the government's current attack on labor be "eased."

How oligarchy can be stopped
What can stop the oligarchy? [image MeanMesa]
 Please note that some of the benefits [particularly those at the bottom of the chart] are not even really generally associated with economic resurgence. Realistic thinking needs to include such apparently disparate items in the "package" when it comes to healing the tattered economy.

Hope springs eternal.

Vote in November.

If all the candidates on your ballot "suck swamp water," consider running yourself next time.

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