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Ms. Wright Goes to Washington

By Sheryl Wright

Despite their pledge during the 2010 mid-term election campaign to focus on jobs,Republicans have used their majority in the House to push abortion to the front of the Congressional agenda. On January 7, 2011, Congressman Mike Pence introduced H.R. 217(the Pence Amendment).

 

Bachmann Spiking the Tea

By Karima E. Rustin

One of the many things I look forward to on a Saturday morning  is reading The New York Times. And who do I see prominently figuring at the beginning of the column but Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann (R-MN)...damn, not Bachmann again!

 

The Politics of Union Envy 

By Sheryl Wright

Neither of my parents went to college, but both were union members—my father in the private sector and my mother in the public. In addition to their salaries, which allowed them to provide a comfortable life for our family, the benefits won by their respective unions

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Roundtable: Delegitimizing Obama–The Intersection of Gender, Power & Politics  

Sheryl: Almost 800 days in office and it seems every day is seen as an opportunity for renewed criticism of the President. The latest kerfuffle is around the claim that President Obama’s decision to involve the U.S. in the action in Libya

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Entries in unions (1)

Friday
Apr082011

The Politics of Union Envy

By Sheryl Wright

Neither of my parents went to college, but both were union members—my father in the private sector and my mother in the public. In addition to their salaries, which allowed them to provide a comfortable life for our family, the benefits won by their respective unions provided: a pension upon retirement; a defined number of paid vacations and sick days; an affordable health care plan for themselves and our family; and protections against arbitrary dismissal, unlike many workers today.

With little exception since 1983, union membership as a whole has been on the decline. Disgracefully, right-wing Republicans and so-called citizen activist groups, such as Americans for Prosperity, funded by the billionaire Koch brothers, are pushing for federal and state legislation that would not only further diminish union membership but also restrain, and in some cases destroy, the collective bargaining power of the unions.

At a time when many working people are losing their jobs, losing their homes, and paying more for health care, among other rising costs, Republicans have been ramping up their efforts to stoke resentment toward union workers in order to win support for their union-busting policies—insinuating that union workers are not feeling any pain. Many non-union working people have accepted the bait. They have bought into the notion that union workers—in both the public and private sectors—are spoiled and have not sacrificed enough.

There is one conversation, in particular that I remember from 2009. I was talking to someone who is a progressive about the concessions autoworkers were going to be forced to make as a prerequisite for the Obama administration’s bailout of Chrysler and General Motors. This person believed the autoworkers should be forced to make these concessions and that they were foolish to hold on to the belief that the auto companies should abide by their contracts. My mouth nearly hit the floor—this was someone who takes the liberal/progressive position on almost every other subject. I was stunned. I calmly pointed out that autoworkers had been making concessions for a number of years up to that point in an effort to help save their employers, while CEOs took home millions in salaries and other forms of compensation. Putting aside the question of whether workers should make additional concessions, how are workers wrong to expect their employers to meet the terms of a negotiated contract?

Unions have had positive effects for all workers; when the average working Jane or Joe American fails to recognize the forces behind the anti-union fervor, they are complicit in their own economic downfall. Because you don’t have a benefit that another working person has, that benefit should be taken away from that other working person? Why don’t you work to unionize your workplace and fight for that benefit for yourself?

Harvard economist, Richard Freeman, points to anti-union sentiment among non-union working people as evidence of a sense of hopelessness pervading in our society. The “if I can’t have it, you can’t either” theme in anti-union responses from other working people is a depressing indicator of the success of the Republicans’ and corporations’ cynical strategy of pitting working people against each other. Meanwhile, despite the budget crises in their states that supposedly warrant obliterating workers’ ability to stand up for themselves, Republican governors have continued to dole out tax cuts to the wealthy and corporations.

The protests taking place throughout the country in answer to the union-busting legislation are a heartening response to what is nothing more than an overt attack on working people—both union and non-union—in this country.

In his New York Times op-ed on the importance of organizing, Bob Herbert wrote:

"It’s not just pocketbook issues but the dignity of American workers that is at stake in the confrontations in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere. These confrontations are about so much more than the right of public employees to bargain collectively, as important as that is. This most recent assault on labor is part of an anti-worker movement that has been on the march for decades."

The workers’ presence in the streets is a demonstration of collective self-respect—a necessary sentiment in the fight against what is, in my view, fundamentally an effort to negate the importance of working people within our society.

I believe in the power of unions to do good for working people and their families. I have witnessed it in my own life. Perhaps the protests throughout the country are harbingers of hope-reborn. I sure will be keeping my fingers crossed.