This year, conservatives are gathering lumps of coal for most Americans’ Christmas stockings. We can soon expect to see multi-million dollar assaults on many of the nation’s remaining social institutions and programs. At the federal level, conservatives in Congress are seeking to cut another $4 billion to 40 billion from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as food stamps. They are also targeting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and unemployment insurance. And they are fighting attempts to increase the minimum wage despite the fact that large corporations have raked in record profits since the beginning of the Great Recession, and that wage growth is our main impediment to economic growth.
Conservatives are facing a severe time crunch in order to accomplish these goals. You see, the economy is finally showing signs of real growth. That means more Americans are working and paying taxes, thereby reducing the drain on social programs and lowering the deficit. As the deficit disappears so, too, does the conservatives’ primary argument for slashing social programs and cutting spending.
If conservatives are going to force more austerity and “personal responsibility” on poor Americans, squash labor unions, slash corporate taxes and head off a growing environmental movement, they have to do it now while the deficit is still inflated due to the effects of the Great Recession.
That’s why, as The Guardian reported, the State Policy Network funded by the Koch brothers is coordinating an all-out assault on government and social institutions in 34 states beginning early next year. The focus is on cutting pensions and wages for government workers, cutting budgets for public schools through voucher programs, and combatting attempts to reduce greenhouse gases. But, undoubtedly, the primary goal of the campaign is to rid the country of labor unions, particularly those in the public sector.
Of course, virtually none of their goals are actually good for our country. They are, however, great for large corporations, their executives and their investors.
None of this should come as a surprise to anyone. Conservatives have been fighting organized labor since the 1800’s. Labor unions grew in the 1930’s following the Great Depression when workers realized that the economic collapse was caused by the rich and their insatiable appetites for more wealth. But labor unions have been under attack ever since. The attacks accelerated during the Reagan administration leading to a decline in union membership, the elimination of more than 85,000 pension plans since 1980, and the export of hundreds of thousands of American jobs. As more high-paying labor jobs were sent offshore, union membership further declined. At the same time, large corporations like Walmart fought to block the unionization of their workers. As a result, union membership declined 11.3 percent in 2012 alone. Simultaneously, corporate profits have soared. But that largess has not been shared with workers.
There is, however, one sector of our economy in which labor unions are alive and well. The percentage of union membership among government workers is now 5 times higher than for workers in private companies. Given their contempt for unions and government, that figure makes public sector unions a tantalizing target for people like the Koch brothers. Their control of workers and the disassembling of government won’t be complete until labor unions no longer exist, corporate taxes are eliminated and the federal government is reduced to the Department of Defense. (After all, somebody has to defend them from those who would like to claim part of their wealth.)
Want to learn more about the attacks on American workers? I highly recommend The Betrayal of the American Dream by Barlett and Steele.