Saturday, September 19, 2009

Welcome To Walmart

The Journal Sentinel weighed in on the latest union-related negotiation (between the City and AFSCME) taking place, Ratify This Deal.

They claim, "it's a good deal for the city and the union." I assume they mean that by simply allowing the unionized workers to keep their jobs, that's a good deal. So much for the city being a standard, a model, for the private sector. Much like the private sector, all workers are expendable and should be happy with whatever crumbs are thrown their way. Yet we're also supposed to be the most innovative, educated and skilled nation on the planet. We just shouldn't be paid like we are or share in the rewards.

The Journal editorial also states that the union agreeing to concessions in this latest deal is, "a welcome recognition of reality by the union."

And that reality would be that the City would rather use taxpayer dollars on speculative deals, funding private developers who don't want to pay a living wage to workers on their projects. But, somehow, this subsidized race to the bottom, using public dollars, building projects with less-than prevailing wages, will lift all boats.

As public entities have become more involved in financing private ventures we've heard more and more over the years about the magic of the market, the wonders of privatization and private entities, and how a rising tide will result and bring prosperity to one and all.

Cities and states have plenty of taxpayer dollars for stadiums, parking structures, site remediation, and anything else private developers desire. But there is never money for transit, libraries, parks, road repair, or other infrastructural needs. Although, in the convoluted economic development logic of today; public dollars for private pursuits; privatization over public employment; and speculative, race to the bottom policies will result in a market-oriented wonderland...regardless of the fact that empirical data (reality) totally refutes this delusional view.

Our tax dollars can bail out banks and insurance companies, so they can pay millions in bonuses to the same individuals that brought down the world economy. Yet public or private unionized workers wanting their pay to merely keep up with inflation are budget-breakers.

As unionization has decreased, and as public dollars are used more and more to finance private speculation, we have seen workers wages decline, job security evaporate, health care costs skyrocket and coverage lost for many employees, retirement degraded into a defined contribution rather than defined benefit plan, and the ability of Americans to have lives unencumbered by debt becoming a false hope.

So as more unionized workers are given the "deal" of higher health care costs, lower/frozen wages, and less-secure retirements, non-unionized workers will feel these effects even more so. It seems that we, as a nation of workers, will only be able to fully grasp the decline in Labor's bargaining power and importance on our standard of living once we're all Walmart workers.

We should stop and reflect on the 40-hour work week, laws against child labor, unemployment insurance, the civil rights movement, Social Security, Medicare, OSHA, the EEOC, and a relaxing thing called the weekend. All of these are results of labor unions and their activism.

If we keep up this degradation of Labor, this lack of respect for actual work and doing/making something of value (as opposed to simply extracting money from the real economy through financialization), we will all need to get used to three words, "Welcome to Walmart."

For Further Reading:
Milwaukee Department of City Development Business Toolbox
Milwaukee Economic Development Corporation
Private Sector Accountability

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