I woke up this morning looking at the calendar thinking it was 2011. Then I looked at the headlines of various newspapers thinking it was more like 1894.
Republican congressional candidates and their state counterparts ran on pledges of “less government” is better government. A professor once told me, “Don’t listen to politicians’ words, look at their actions.” If we look at the actions of Republican governors in Midwestern states, we see their actions don’t support “less government,” rather, their actions support larger government that is focused on the broader goal of weakening the power of labor unions, a segment of the population that not surprisingly is a major part of the Democratic voter base. The Michigan bill that deals with emergency financial managers is the most recent part of this broad attack on unions.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a controversial bill that essentially stripped most state public employees from collectively bargaining, except for wage increases that don’t exceed inflation. He did this because of a “budget crisis,” though he signed a bill that stripped public employees of collective bargaining rights, yet it contained no budget provisions. As my last opinion column showed, the budget deficit for the current year was created by Walker because he decided to pass spending provisions on tax cuts and private health care savings accounts. I guess tax cuts are more important than collective bargaining rights.
The union busting measures have now traveled to the state of Michigan. The new Emergency Financial Manager legislation will allow these financial managers to “null and void” any contract that they wish, including union contracts. Republican state senator Jack Brandenburg said several areas in Michigan, especially Detroit, would need these financial managers because they are in “really bad shape.” He said of these financial managers, “He has to have the backbone, he has to have the power, to null and void a contract.”
What happened to the right of contract? When it applies to unions, I guess it simply doesn’t exist.
While Republicans always distribute the mantra of “less government,” this legislation would allow these financial managers to invade the local governments that people have elected. This would seem to contradict one of their biggest rhetoric points, somewhat similar to when Supreme Court Justices Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas forgot their love affair with “dual federalism,” a doctrine that emphasizes states’ rights, when Bush v. Gore appeared before them. They decided in that particular instance states’ rights weren’t that important after all.
This issue, in all these states, really comes down to one. Do you support collective bargaining as a right, such as the right of free speech or association? While states are having problems because the economic recession brought down state revenues, there is a different solution to the problem in states that do actually have budget problems. The solution is to raise taxes and end safe tax havens overseas.
While the unemployment rate in the U.S. remains a high burden on American families, the number of millionaires in 2010 increased by 8 percent. Yet we’re not willing to raise taxes on the ultra-rich. Even though in November 2010, Warren Buffet said in the Wall Street Journal, “People like myself should be paying a lot more in taxes. We have it better than we’ve ever had it.” Yet, the Republicans say the rich pay too much in taxes. Then Google saved $3.1 billion in taxes the last three years by moving most of its foreign profits into Ireland accounts, where they have a 12.5 percent corporate income tax. We could end these tax havens and tax the rich more, but our politicians lack the moral courage to do so.
Instead, they choose to go after the rights of working Americans. Part of a court opinion that was written in NLRB v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation sums up my views on the right of collective bargaining, and remember, this case was decided in 1937. “This is a fundamental right. Employees have as clear a right to organize and select their representatives for lawful purposes as the respondent has to organize its business and select its own officers and agents.”
The right to collectively bargain is fundamental in the right to freely associate, but the Republican Party has decided to dilute this right. The Republican Party was the party that once claimed that “behind Medicare … one day … we will awake to find that we have socialism.” As George Will once said, “Conservatives define themselves in terms of what they oppose.” Republicans seem to be opposing progress. It shows in all the social domestic programs they opposed in the 20th century. People won’t forget which party thought corporate profits and marginal tax rates were more important than the right to collectively bargain, once again.