“Not long after President Reagan declared the 1981 air traffic controllers strike illegal and fired 11,000 air traffic controllers, corporations began illegally opposing union organizing efforts by aggressively firing union organizers.” The Attack on Labor Unions and why they matter by Martin Hart-Landsberg | 9 Jun 2017
[By Junious Ricardo Stanton] As we pause to celebrate Labor Day let us stop and think about how the ruling oligarchs have successfully and systematically waged a multi-front war on organized labor and the devastating consequences this mugging has had on working people. The timeline of major attacks goes back to Ronald Reagan. Since the 1980’s when President Ronald Reagan decertified the air traffic controllers union and summarily fired the union’s whole membership, the labor movement, organized labor and its membership have taken hit after hit.
Today the labor movement exerts far less power and influence than it did forty years ago. “The number of employed union members has declined by 2.9 million since 1983. During the same time, the number of all wage and salary workers grew from 88.3 million to 133.7 million. Consequently, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent in 1983 and declined to 11.1 percent in 2015. In 2009, there was a sharp decline in the number of workers overall and in the number of union members. The number of wage and salary workers declined by 4.9 million from 2008 to 2009, and the number of employed union members fell by 771,000. However, the union membership rate was 12.3 percent in 2009, essentially unchanged from 12.4 percent in 2008.” Union Membership in the United States- Megan Dunn and James Walker https://www.bls.gov/spotlight/2016/union-membership-in-the-united-states/pdf/union-membership-in-the-united-states.pdf
People think the Republicans orchestrated the attack on unions but it has been a bi-partisan affair. Bill Clinton and Al Gore ran their version of the “Southern Strategy” moving the Democratic Party more to the right, becoming more corporate friendly and distancing themselves from the party’s traditional base of organized labor, civil rights and liberalism during their 1992 presidential campaign. History shows Bill Clinton betrayed organized labor even before he became President when he was governor of Arkansas, “After the labor movement helped elect David Pryor, Dale Bumpers and Bill Clinton early in their careers, the three politicians took aggressive anti-union positions, Michael Pierce, an associate professor of history at the University of Arkansas, writes in a recent piece on The Labor and Working-Class History Association’s Labor Online website. Pierce sees a connection between Clinton’s early work against 1978’s Labor Reform Bill (for the Pryor campaign), his later pro-business policies as governor and president and Hillary Clinton’s struggles with working class whites.” The roots and legacy of Bill Clinton’s ‘abandonment’ of organized labor- Lindsey Miller https://arktimes.com/arkansas-blog/2016/11/28/the-roots-and-legacy-of-bill-clintons-abandonment-of-organized-labor
But it was Reagan who won the major battle against unions mainly because the rest of national organized labor leadership white collar, blue collar and no collar stood passively by and allowed him to decertify the air traffic controllers union. What do you think would have happened if just the Teamsters and Longshoremen Unions stood up to Reagan and demanded he rescind his order and rehire the air traffic controllers or there would be nation wide wildcat strikes?! Almost all commerce would have come to a halt in this country. What do you think would have happened if the public sector unions supported them and went on strike also? Who do you think would have blinked first Reagan or the unions?
Alas that did not happen and as a result working folks are paying the price today. For almost a century there has been an organized assault on organized labor in both the private and pubic sectors led by billionaires like the Koch family and their minions in the state houses around the country. In recent years the Koch family stepped up its anti-labor organizing and funding to create a political infrastructure far beyond the one created by their father Fred Koch.
The elder Koch was a founder of the John Birch Society an arch conservative organization; his sons Charles and David took anti-unionism to a whole ‘nother level, by creating and funding the American Legislative Exchange Council to impact local state and national policies.
“Hundreds of ALEC’s model bills and resolutions bear traces of Koch DNA: raw ideas that were once at the fringes but that have been carved into “mainstream” policy through the wealth and will of Charles and David Koch. Of all the Kochs’ investments in right-wing organizations, ALEC provides some of the best returns: it gives the Kochs a way to make their brand of free-market fundamentalism legally binding. No one knows how much the Kochs have given ALEC in total, but the amount likely exceeds $1 million—not including a half-million loaned to ALEC when the group was floundering. ALEC gave the Kochs its Adam Smith Free Enterprise Award, and Koch Industries has been one of the select members of ALEC’s corporate board for almost twenty years. The company’s top lobbyist was once ALEC’s chairman. As a result, the Kochs have shaped legislation touching every state in the country. Like ideological venture capitalists, the Kochs have used ALEC as a way to invest in radical ideas and fertilize them with tons of cash.” ALEC Exposed: The Koch Connection Lisa Graves https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/alec-exposed-koch-connection/
The Koch network still influences not just anti labor ideology and policies, but also in areas such as deregulation, education, Social Security and trade policy! “But ALEC also promotes a broader economic and deregulatory agenda that is not directly tied to the profitability of specific donors—including advocating for cuts to Social Security, unemployment insurance, and food stamps; supporting more trade treaties on the NAFTA model; and cutting public funding for schools, as well as supporting efforts to block union organizing and restrict union participation in political debates.26 Virtually all of the initiatives described in this report—including forced privatization, ‘right to work’ and abolishing minimum-wage and prevailing-wage laws—reflect model statutes developed by ALEC and promoted through its network. This dimension of ALEC’s work is not aimed at immediately enhancing specific donors’ revenues, but at reshaping the fundamental balance of power between workers and employers.” The Legislative Attack On American Wages and Labor Standards 2011-2012 Gordon Lafer https://www.epi.org/publication/attack-on-american-labor-standards/#epi-toc-1
Recent US Supreme Court decisions have made it easier for big money like the Kochs to buy politicians, political parties and set agendas which hurt labor unions and workers. Corporate bottom line priorities have targeted workers and organized collective bargaining. There is an increasingly aggressive push to undermine labor unions and weaken worker power. “The so-called reforms union opponents advocate for would only make a flawed system worse and even less democratic. While proponents of these reforms claim that they are looking out for workers, their efforts are best understood as an effort to weaken workers’ ability to join together in unions and serve as a countervailing power against corporate interests. If unions are weakened even further, there will be fewer checks on the power of corporations in the workplace and the economy at large.” Anti Democratic Attacks on Unions Hurt Working Americans- David Madland, Alex Rowell and Gordon Lafer https://www.americanprogressaction.org/issues/economy/reports/2017/06/26/167907/anti-democratic-attacks-unions-hurt-working-americans/
We can see this in decades of stagnant worker wages, increasing anti union legislation and anti-worker policies that are the result of a massively well coordinated and financed assault on organized labor, collective bargaining and worker engagement. Celebrating Labor Day has become a hollow event another way the ruling class mocks us. See this for further elaboration: How the American Worker Got Fleeced https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2020-the-fleecing-of-the-american-worker/
As we celebrate Labor Day stop to think about how workers and unions are systemically being kicked to the curb.