My last post focused on the massive corporate income tax cut, the centerpiece of the Trump Administration’s attempt to confiscate the meager incomes of wage earners and redistribute it to the investor class. Implicit in this attempt is the fact that the rich have acquired formidable political power. The political ascendence of the super wealthy occurred, in part, because of the demise of labor unions. Unions have been decimated as an economic and political force over the past 30 years or so, and the last nail in their coffin could be an upcoming decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in a pivotal labor case, Janus vs. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31. If the justices vote as expected, our country will move further away from the democracy we were intended to be and closer to a plutocracy.
In the court case, anti-union interests have challenged a long-standing law that benefits unions, specifically those representing employees of state and local governments. The law requires the unions to bargain for all workers, regardless of whether or not they’ve joined the union. In return, it allows the unions to charge an “agency fee” or “fair share fee” to employees who choose not to join the union. This is also true for unions in the private sector. The idea is that all employees benefit from collective bargaining handled by the union, so all employees should contribute some money to the union. Employees who don’t join must pay a monthly fee that’s less than the dues paid by employees who do join. The system spreads the cost of collective bargaining across the workplace.
If the high court rules that agency fees are illegal, unions will be significantly weakened. (For a more detailed explanation, go to www.scotusblog.com and search for Janus vs. AFSCME. You will find short, clear synopsis of the case.)
Washington Post writer Dana Milbank opined that a Supreme Court victory for Janus — considered likely given the addition of Justice Neil Gorsuch to the court — might spark a national backlash by people who believe in rights for labor and be a harbinger of labor unrest not seen in decades.
The challenge to the law is funded largely by a right-wing foundation in Wisconsin, The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, and two funds linked to the Koch brothers. This Politico article provides details.
The Kochs and the Bradley Foundation are involved for both ideological and practical political reasons. Ideologically, the Kochs and Bradleys abhor unions. A deeply rooted Libertarian/Conservative ethos embraced by the Kochs and their acolytes motivates their anti-union campaigns. The Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation was the major cheerleader and funder of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union activities, which broke the back of the state’s public employee unions. In fact, Wisconsin is ranked No. 1 among the states in the strength of is conservative institutions, as measured by the Bradley Foundation. In using their immense financial power to cripple unions, the Kochs and Bradleys have been ideologically consistent.
There’s also a practical, Machiavellian side to their anti-union strategy. If the court rules against AFSCME and deprives public-employee unions of agency fees from non-members, it will reduce the amount of money public employee unions can contribute to political candidates they favor, who are overwhelmingly Democrats. The Politico article referenced above estimates a reduction from the current $166 million to $55 million.
So the Kochs, the Bradley Foundation and their allies are spending money to deprive Democrats of one of their biggest sources of money, in hopes of swinging the midterm election toward Republicans.
If you’ve read this far and don’t understand why this post is titled Class Warfare II, then I’ve done a poor job of writing. Arrayed on one side of the issue are the wealthy scions of the libertarian establishment, aka, conservatives. On the other side are hourly workers whose sweat has created mountains of wealth that isn’t trickling down to them.
Members of public employee unions represented by AFSCME and other unions are mostly female and increasingly people of color. They are healthcare workers, police, firefighters, sanitation workers, etc. Union membership has given them negotiating power with states, counties and municipalities for better pay and benefits.
Fifty years ago the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stood with striking trash collectors in Memphis, Tenn. They were seeking to improve their working conditions and pay. They had walked off the job after two co-workers were crushed to death by a malfunctioning compactor on the back of a garbage truck.
Where would King stand today? With the billionaires or the poor people? For sure he would side with the poor, and every Christian should do the same. This is fundamental to my reading of the Gospel and perhaps yours as well.
It won’t be easy to out-maneuver the big money barons. They’ve been working ardently since the 1950s — well before King’s Poor People’s Campaign — to bust unions. They are closer than ever to achieving their goals of plutocratic governance and vastly greater political and economic power for the wealthy. Don’t confuse these guys with the clown car in the White House. They are in a different league. They have immense wealth, are highly disciplined, smart, and are, above all, true believers. They want to privatize everything from the Veterans Administration to every public school in America. They want no checks on their ability to accumulate wealth and pass it along to their heirs.
The Supreme Court’s decision might demoralize people who believe in economic justice, but only temporarily I hope. The decision, whichever way it goes, should galvanize people who revere King’s legacy and reinforce their commitment to social and economic justice. Labor unions are essential to achieving these goals. Who cares if fat cats bent on protecting the status quo shout “Class Warfare!” They say it only to instill fear that the country somehow will be torn apart if the greatest good goes to the greatest number.
Don’t believe them for one minute. Let’s fight the good fight in spite of them.
- To better understand why the Daddy Warbucks crowd is dedicated to snuffing out labor unions that already are on life support, pick up the book Democracy in Chains, by Duke University historian Nancy MacLean. This is the second time I have recommended that; so I do think it is important.
- And to learn more about the beginnings of the movement for union representation in the public sector, read this article from Vox about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the sanitation workers of Memphis.