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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Cutting our Throats to Spite the Unions

It's no secret that Conservatives generally view labor unions with suspicion. The reason is simple: they believe that people with money should be able to spend it anyway they want without anyone telling them how to do so. A labor union, to monetarists, is an abberation that inverts the economic power system and creates impediments to the free flow of capital.

Am I exaggerating? Read this link. Or notice the way this post substitutes "Socialism or Marxism" for "liberal politics". Or read this. Or find out how labor unions are run by the Soviet Union.

The fact is that for many older conservatives, opposition to labor unions at home was a growth of the same opposition they showed to the Soviet Union abroad. Communism was inherently evil, they believed. Especially among thinkers like Ayn Rand, Ludwig von Mises, or Friedrich Hayek, labor unionism was an effort to overthrow everything that made America great - and by America, they meant "free trade".

So it was that anti-unionists in Congress, like Robert Taft of Ohio and Barry Goldwater of Arizona, pushed for anti-union legislation. Ultimately, they were able to limit the ability of unions to set up union-shops by promoting the false idea of "the right to work". To these perverse thinkers, you should have a "right" to work without anyone but your employer looking out for your health, safety, and well-being. The right to work, in this instance, is nothing more than the right to slavery under slightly different terms.

Those who have actually read a little history will remember that the US and USSR were actually allies during World War II. It was not until the USSR made a grab for Berlin - and by extension the industrial capacity of Germany - that the two became enemies. However, that strategic maneuver on the part of the Soviets gave the conservative (at the time still in its infancy) an issue to seize upon and say, "We told you so! We were right all along! You just have to listen to me!" (Oddly enough, that sounds like many of the most strident voices on the right today.)

To the small group of conservatives, the Soviet Union had always been the enemy anyway - because they (supposedly) operated their government for the benefit of the workers! There was literally no difference in fighting the Soviets and fighting the AFL-CIO. Both actions were necessary to defend capitalism and free market economics. In order to do this, it was necessary to ban most, if not all, trade with the Soviet Union.

This is not a defense of the Soviet Union. The human rights abuses and lack of civil rights destroyed generations of human beings. Rather than honoring the work and glorifying the workers, corruption twisted the goals into placating the worker while the ruling class enriched itself. Eventually, the entire system depended on a web of lies that, when exposed to daylight, crumbled into nothingness.

Meanwhile, Ronald Reagan, the Crown Prince of Conservatism, sat in the White House. His virulent anti-communism leads to the twin actions of busting the Air Traffic Controllers Union (for which they perversely named an airport after him) and a military build-up aimed at crippling the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, the crumbling facade of the corrupt Soviet leadership was coming to an end. The great experiment in the name of workers had betrayed its ideas and its people - and eventually this brought it to its knees. The timing was such that Ronald Reagan was able to leap to the head of the class and claim sole responsibility.

So we come to the current day. Labor unions are struggling in a legal system that is unfriendly towards them. The tipping of the federal judiciary to the conservative end of the spectrum has made it more difficult for labor to win victories in the courts and the removal of barriers to international trade has made strikes (in most manufacturing industries) ineffectual, if not impossible to pull off. This has a single common base that reveals a betrayal within the Conservative movement of one of its core values.

That issue is free trade with China. It should come as no surprise to anyone that Chinese labor is much cheaper than American labor. As well, business doesn't have to deal with regulatory restrictions - such as health and safety regulations, environmental regulations, etc. Honestly, the only reason this country has a single manufacturing job left comes down to two reasons: 1) a fading sense of patriotism; or 2) they don't have the money to relocate.

The rise of Wal-Mart cannot be overstated in this development. The demand for ever decreasing prices forces companies to relocate in order to compete. The result is a swelling trade deficit with China. All of this is for no other reason than breaking the backs of the unions. Understand that "more competitive labor pricing" is nothing more than a nice way to say "scab labor" - or less emotionally "people so desperate they will take any wage".

Meanwhile, the flow of money in and out of the country towards China works to the benefit of China - our "trade imbalance" is nothing more than a subsidy of China to the tune of almost two hundred billion dollars per year. How long do you think that we would have waited for the USSR to fall if we had given them two hundred billion dollars per year? What if that two hundred billion dollars came with a few million jobs?

Don't get suckered into thinking that China is our "competitive partner". We are in competition with China. The flow of trade dollars into China from America necessarily weakens our manufacturing base and strengthens theirs. It makes our currency weaker and theirs stronger (technically, their currency doesn't vary as it is pegged to the US dollar. This is only true until our subsidies make their currency stronger than ours.). It takes money out of our economy - taking away jobs and forcing down wages - while giving the jobs and wages to therm.

This is not to say that I am not sympathetic to the plight of the average Chinese person. I am. However, I am more sympathetic to the plight of the American worker. The only thing that is worse than having American workers at the mercy of American business owners is to have them at the mercy of Chinese business owners. In trying to break the unions by pursuing policies that allow constantly lower wages and less regulation, we are cutting our own throat. Increasingly, it is looking like the knife we use to do so will have "Made in China" stamped on the handle.

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