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Union members at Indiana statehouse protesting anti-union bill.
"They're Bankrupting Us!": And 20 Other Myths about Unions
By Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Beacon Press: Boston
224 pages
$10.95 paperback; $8.25 Kindle edition

If the subtitle And 20 Other Myths about Unions makes you think "They're Bankrupting Us!" will be a straightforward affair, offering a few statistics and stories to counter each of its 20 myths, think again. Bill Fletcher, Jr. writes that the genesis of this book was in a conversation he had with a woman on a plane who capped a conversation about the labor-related book he was reading with the question "what's a union?" But this is not Unions for Dummies. Rather, it's a nuanced presentation of, yes, 20 myths about unions and rejoinders to them, but rejoinders that often represent sophisticated efforts at reframing the views implicit in anti-union myths.

Many works in the "this many myths about X" genre aim primarily at arming you with two killer facts per myth, suitable for winning Thanksgiving dinner battle with your conservative uncle. While Fletcher will give you some ammunition for that debate, he'll leave you equally if not more equipped for intense conversation with a political ally on the place of unions and other worker organizing in history and in today's workplace and politics. It's for that—for the response to the myth that union demands are unreasonable that doesn't just say "no and here's why" but rather asks us to consider what we mean by "unreasonable" within the context of the different interests of workers and bosses, for example—that this book should be read.

In the conservative-uncle vein, myth 16, "unions and corporations are both too big and don't really care about the worker," punctures the idea communicated by the term "big labor" that unions and corporations are in any way equivalent in size and sway by pointing out that "SEIU's assets represent a shocking .05 percent of ExxonMobil's market value." It's a number that exposes just how cynical it is to talk about "big labor" in an effort to suggest that unions are somehow too dominant in our economy.

But more typical of the book, Fletcher's discussion of myth 12, "unions are all racist and people of color need not apply," opens like so:

Communities of color have a complicated relationship with organized labor—one that stems from a history that includes examples of courageous interracial/interethnic solidarity on the one hand and intense racial/ethnic antagonism on the other.

To address this charge, It’s critical to appreciate three underlying problems: the character of the United States as a political entity, the implications of competition among workers, and social control over workers by the employer class.

(Continue reading below the fold.)

Next, he offers a brief history of the construction of race in American history; as "a sociopolitical concept rather than a matter of either biology or imagination." It’s in this context that he then discusses the history of racial competition and exclusion in union history—and the often ignored history of labor organizing and activism by workers of color, from the 1600s on.

Neither does Fletcher leave his discussion of racial competition and exclusion in the past. He notes that "the percentage of African American union members (that is, as a percentage of African Americans) has consistently outpaced other racial/ethnic groups for years" and points to increasing diversity in union leadership, but does not at all absolve unions of the need for a continuing shift in power relationships.

As this suggests, Fletcher's pro-union discussion of anti-union myths critiques unions from the left, always seeking to identify ways unions could be more democratic, more inclusive, offer a broader social justice agenda both internally and in national and global politics. Unlike some who criticize unions from the left, though, Fletcher, a former union organizer and high-level staffer at the SEIU and AFL-CIO, writes with awareness of the challenges unions face in an economic and political environment so dominated by corporations (remember that .05 percent of a single corporation that the SEIU’s assets represent). "They’re Bankrupting Us!" analyzes unions' successes and failures within that framework, never letting the reader lose sight of the fact that employer opposition to unions is at base about opposition to worker power, never getting overly involved with grudges against specific union leaders or actions.

There's an immense amount to appreciate in these sophisticated discussions of 21 myths about unions. At times, though, they're a little too indirect as responses to concrete charges often leveled against unions, heading off on tangents that, while interesting, might leave you flipping back a few pages to remind yourself what exactly we’re talking about here. In large part this seems to stem from Fletcher’s admirable determination not to absolve unions of their failings; he gets caught between offering the historical or political context in which unions have been racist or sexist (or at least not anti-racist and anti-sexist enough), pointing to examples in which unions have transcended systems of oppression, and assessing where they stand today, and loses the thread of the specific myth he’s discussing.

Nonetheless, "They’re Bankrupting Us!" And 20 Other Myths about Unions provides a rich picture of where unions fit in the American and world economies, their promise and their successes, the challenges they do offer to corporate capitalism and the challenges they should offer. If you’re familiar with Unions 101 and looking for a more in-depth treatment of some of the same territory, this is a good choice.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 11:10 AM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  well put (8+ / 0-)
    In large part this seems to stem from Fletcher’s admirable determination not to absolve unions of their failings; he gets caught between offering the historical or political context in which unions have been racist or sexist (or at least not anti-racist and anti-sexist enough), pointing to examples in which unions have transcended systems of oppression, and assessing where they stand today, and loses the thread of the specific myth he’s discussing.

    yksitoista ulotteinen presidentin shakki. / tappaa kaikki natsit "Nous sommes un groupuscule" (-9.50; -7.03) 政治委员, 政委‽ Warning - some snark above ‽

    by annieli on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 11:19:13 AM PST

    •  I remember taking a Management class in College (9+ / 0-)

      decades ago that dealt directly with how to screw over Unions. At least that was the point of the class, as I recall.

      "We are a Plutocracy, we ought to face it. We need, desperately, to find new ways to hear independent voices & points of view" Ramsey Clark, U.S. Attorney General.

      by Mr SeeMore on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 11:48:41 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  pedagogy has changed far too much for the worse (3+ / 0-)
        EDUC 744 911 Effective Classroom Management

        Description
        Discover best practices of effective classroom management, how to establish a productive classroom climate, how to apply a variety of management techniques to help students become responsible for their behaviors and choices. Learn how to increase student motivation, build positive student-teacher relationships, and develop effective partnerships between parents and school. Includes strategies to minimize and prevent classroom and behavior management problems and time management techniques such as managing email, paperwork, planning, and classroom organization.

        yksitoista ulotteinen presidentin shakki. / tappaa kaikki natsit "Nous sommes un groupuscule" (-9.50; -7.03) 政治委员, 政委‽ Warning - some snark above ‽

        by annieli on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 11:57:20 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  yes, me too (8+ / 0-)

        Three decades ago in the absence of my boss I was invited to an anti-union management meeting - now this was a totally white-collar work force..and the gist was how to persuade your underlings to vote against a union vote.  And this in a quasi-public-sector 'business' (Blue Cross of MA).  The days when unions were powerful enough to damage anyone or anything are long gone.  Bring back the IWW!  

  •  Thanks for this, Laura. (8+ / 0-)

    Sound like a rich, complex discussion that is worth reading.

  •  Right Wing Buddy (21+ / 0-)

    A great friend of mine is a Fox Newser who hates unions without ever having been a member.  When I asked him why, his first reason was that the union bosses took the union dues and lived "like kings."  Out of curiosity, I googled salaries and sent him a list.  CEO of American Cancer Society: $2 million per year.  Head of NRA: $970,000.  Chrysler CEO: $4.7 million.  Ford CEO: $27 million that year.  UAW union boss: $168,000.  Who's living like a king?  Of course, it'll take more than facts to change his mind.

  •  I'm an SEIU member,, (15+ / 0-)

    employed at the U of IL and what surprises me is the number of fellow employees, both SEIU janitors as well as the various trades that are anti-union and consistently vote republican. I grew up in suburban Chicago but have lived here in Champaign for 36 years and some of it is anti-Democratic/Chicago feeling, some of it is racist, even before Obama was elected the Democrats were and are viewed as the Party of African-Americans, and some of it is just plain stupidity.

    "Remember, Republican economic policies quadrupled the debt before I took office and doubled it after I left. We simply can't afford to double-down on trickle-down." Bill Clinton

    by irate on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 11:28:19 AM PST

  •  Does he address the Mafia? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    expatjourno, richardvjohnson

    Because when I was organizing in the 90's, I heard "Mafia" as an objection more than anything other than "I just don't think we need a union."

    "Because Romney's a clown . . ."--Henry Francis

    by LeftCoastTimm on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 11:34:16 AM PST

    •  Yes, one of the chapters (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      nicolemm

      addresses the perception that unions are corrupt/mobbed up. It's actually a very interesting discussion of why historically some unions were more vulnerable to that than others, while making clear that's not a majority of unions by any means.

  •  I had a conversation recently about unions (15+ / 0-)

    with someone who can only be described as an idiot.  He started out with the "unions are bankrupting" businesses argument.   That was followed up with an argument contradicting the original aregument - unions are weak and don't do anything for the dues employees pay. So to thus person they are both too weak and too strong at the same time.
    The next part was even better.  He claimed unions are only for people to weak to negotiate for themselves.  He ends with a rant that he hadn't gotten a raise for several years, he doesn't have any pension or 401k, or employer provided healthcare and his life basically sucks.  So his tough guy negotiating skills gets him squat.   I guess it pays go be a weakling.  
    It is another example of successful GOP propaganda that they have gotten so many people to believe all this bull shit.    

    •  Insulting your peer (0+ / 0-)

      Your post is another example of how union supporters build antagonism towards themselves by throwing insults at people who disagree with them.

      Even if your view is valid, and his is not, do you think you gain support by referring to him as an idiot and a weakling?

      Religion gives men the strength to do what should not be done.

      by bobtmn on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 12:01:56 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  In many cases, (7+ / 0-)

      unions are about way more than wages and benefits.

      My spouse has been a member of Amalgamated Transitworkers Union (ATU) for almost 31 years (he's now a retiree member, having retired in October 2011 after nearly 30 years behind the wheel). Thanks to the pension negotiated by the local, he was able to retire instead of being carried out feet first like several of his colleagues (I just learned that one of my favorite drivers just passed away in August). Thanks to the work done by the Safety Committee, buses were retrofit with safer, more ergonomic driver's seats so that people didn't have to take medical retirement for back issues. Finally, thanks to the work done by the local, my spouse and many others were able to keep their jobs when the transit district wanted to get rid of them while they were trying to come in compliance with new DMV regulations regarding health (mainly blood pressure).

      I think I'd like to grab a copy of this book -- sounds fascinating.

      "If we ever needed to vote we sure do need to vote now" -- Rev. William Barber, NAACP

      by Cali Scribe on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 12:29:23 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Yes, those people opposing unions are behooved (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Calamity Jean

      To talk out both sides of their mouths. When Governor Walker was getting set to outlaw our collective bargaining rights here in WI, he set out to discredit us in any way possible; portrayed us as the "haves" opposed to the non-union "have-nots."

       Riiiiiiiight, we all have cushy, easy, overpaid jobs with fat, undeserved benefits.

      The "have-nots" mostly bought it, and then after Walker dropped the bomb on us, Lt. Gov Kleefisch put an editorial in all the state papers praising the governor's heroic move, and how us state workers should be so grateful because that meant that all 350,000 of us were no longer going to be FORCED to join the union.

       You know, the one that gives us those cushy, easy overpaid jobs with fat, undeserved benefits. Riiiiiiiiight.

      It still makes me sick. We got our rights back, but a lot of damage is done.

  •  The optics on this photo suck - (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tardis10

    The two guys on the left look pissed off and thereby unapproachable.
    There's no women.
    None of them look like they work in an office.
    In short it looks like a stereotype casting of old time B movie version of a union.
    You will NEVER grow union participation with this kind of imagery.
    If the union movement is going to grow it's going to have to grow into the office environment. This image is about as far from it as you can get.
    Why does the left always shoot itself in the foot when it comes to messaging?

    •  It's a stock photo, most likely (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dirtandiron, nicolemm

      Take a look at the news, you'll see plenty of examples of a wide range of people out there fighting for workers rights, whether it's the Hostess bakers currently striking, or nurses at Sutter Health hospitals planning a walk out, or workers at the Raley's owned chains picketing. (Nob Hill is amongst those affected, which means we have to go somewhere other than the in-store Peet's Coffee to get my mother-in-law her favorite coffee drinks because we refuse to cross a picket line if at all possible.)

      And it's already in the office environment in many cases -- witness the efforts made by SEIU (and in the case of government, AFSCME). But I guess you'd rather see nice, clean cut people rather than those who, as Ed Schultz puts it, take a shower after work rather than before.

      "If we ever needed to vote we sure do need to vote now" -- Rev. William Barber, NAACP

      by Cali Scribe on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 12:36:10 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes - probably a stock photo - and a bad one (0+ / 0-)
        But I guess you'd rather see nice, clean cut people rather than those who, as Ed Schultz puts it, take a shower after work rather than before.
        The guys look clean - that's not the problem.
        If I was going to put together a photo to alienate possible union members this is pretty close to what I would come up with. Scowling, unapproachable middle aged men. At least they're not carrying weapons. If they were all white you could substitute Tea Party slogans on their signs.
        Do I want them to be approachable? Yup.
        Would I like at least one of them to be smiling? Yup.
        Would I like to have one of them be a woman? You bet.
        Imagery counts.
        That's why, after Romney's "binders full of women..." comment Obama appeared speaking in front of a banks of women.
        Imagery counts and the left had better catch on to it.
  •  It's simply surreal how damaging the media (10+ / 0-)

    is and has been to the country and the interests of most of its peoples since the 70's, by actively and eagerly accepting and promoting one RW lie, myth and anti-left smear after another, at face value, without the slightest bit of critical analysis, for which it's either incapable or uninterested, for ideological, financial and even personal reasons (well-paid media stars absolutely do not want to alienate the even richer people they work for and hang out with).

    Listening to a broad section of the political media this past week in its analysis of what the election means for the country and Obama's second term, the consensus seems to be that he has to govern the way that Romney would have governed (or at least said he would havegoverned in the latter stages of the campaign, i.e. as a mainstream but not too far-right conservative). It's simply stunning how easily and uncritically most pundits and members of the media accept this as received wisdom that only a crazy person would challenge.

    And this is the basis of the ideological current we have to go up against in trying to reform policy in a more progressive direction, be it with respect to education, energy, environmental, fiscal or labor policy. It's always the same. The accepted starting point in the establishment media is always a conservative one. Perhaps a "compassionate" and non-teabagger one, but a conservative one nonetheless.

    E.g. taxes shouldn't be raised on the rich because it'll be bad for the economy and in any case is politically impossible. Spending must be cut and entitlements must be slashed because it's the only way to reduce the deficit (which is clearly the #1 problem facing the country). Obama can't let himself be held hostage by his far-left liberal base (but he must be held hostage to listen to the angry demands of sage advice of right-wing ideologues and greedy rich people serious people in the political center). And so on. Over and over and over again, this is what we here from most people in the media across the alleged ideological spectrum.

    No wonder we still lack the populist political capital to take on the establishment. They control the media and use it to manipulate public opinion in its favor.

    "Liberty without virtue would be no blessing to us" - Benjamin Rush, 1777

    by kovie on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 11:45:25 AM PST

    •  Yes, we should hurt people right now, directly... (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dirtandiron, kovie, wasatch, Calamity Jean

      ...instead of potentially hurting them later.

      And yes, Obama should implement White America President Romney's vision instead of the vision Obama was elected to implement.

      Why, exactly, should Obama be compromising more than Bush did after stealing the election in 2000?

      The media never address that.

      •  Because it doesn't want to (6+ / 0-)

        The establishment media is absolutely committed to promoting a policy narrative that favors the interests of the already rich, powerful and privileged. This has been going on for so long that most of the public and even people in the media don't realize it, so brainwashed have they become by decades of RW propaganda. They believe what they're told because of the flawed but very human belief that if everyone's saying something then it has to be true.

        Cognitive dissonance.

        Even people who sense that something's not quite right or are otherwise honest and smart people who should know better often self-censor out of fear of being called a loon or worse. I can't tell you how many times I've gotten into a heated argument with my dad, who's generally a liberal on economic policy, over his adamant conviction that the deficit is out of control and if it's not fixed very soon, in part with cuts to entitlements, we're doomed, and that anyone who disputes this is nuts (i.e. me). He gets his news from CNN and other establishment media sources, doesn't blog or read The Nation and such, and so buys into this RW CW.

        The dissemination of political ideology is largely controlled by people who own the media and skillfully and cynically employ modern marketing methods (i.e. lying).

        "Liberty without virtue would be no blessing to us" - Benjamin Rush, 1777

        by kovie on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 12:07:32 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  shouldn't be surprised (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Calamity Jean, nicolemm

      Who runs the major news corporations?

      Old white males.

      Which way do old white males lean politically as confirmed on 11/6? It's said but true.

      Even WaPo has been slowly but surely drifting right since the late 90's...

      Part of the 53% who used to be in the 47%. Thank you gov't for the assist!

      by cashblaster on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 01:23:02 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Not at all surprised (0+ / 0-)

        But, being human, certainly disappointed and dismayed. I don't like it when I see people in positions of power and responsibility lie, or display such stunning levels of stupidity, cowardice and laziness, especially when I know how well paid they are and how many people believe in and get their opinions from them.

        I think that they each have their own combination of motivations for spouting the nonsense that they spout and it's not all willful and self-interested, at least not at an immediately conscious level. But they're not doing their jobs, at least as public arbiters of truth. Knowingly or not, they're basically glorified PR flaks.

        "Liberty without virtue would be no blessing to us" - Benjamin Rush, 1777

        by kovie on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 01:57:07 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  A book about unions and you link to Amzn? (4+ / 0-)

    How about a link to a company that actually gives back to the community and doesn't evade taxes ...

    http://www.barnesandnoble.com/...

    The hypocrisy of people that criticize Rmoney for evading taxes while they by their products on Amzn is astounding.

    A mind like a book, has to be open to function properly.

    by falconer520 on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 11:47:27 AM PST

  •  Looks like a good read. Thanks for this. n/t (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dirtandiron, quill
  •  Meaningless comparison (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Sparhawk
    "SEIU's assets represent a shocking .05 percent of ExxonMobil's market value." It's a number that exposes just how cynical it is to talk about "big labor" in an effort to suggest that unions are somehow too dominant in our economy.
    I have never heard a more ridiculous comparison.  

    Union power comes from the ability to shut down production and to elect sympathetic politicians, not the ownership of the means of production.

    Comparing a membership association with a natural resources conglomerate in terms of physical assets is so simplistic the rest of the book is probably not worth reading.

    Religion gives men the strength to do what should not be done.

    by bobtmn on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 11:49:19 AM PST

    •  Because the wingnuts (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dave in Northridge, quill

      are always screaming that unions have more money and power than corporations. Which is simply not true. How come it's alright for them to make the comparison, but not for us to refute it?

      Where are all the jobs, Boehner?

      by Dirtandiron on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 12:06:59 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  It does not refute (0+ / 0-)

        I've never heard anyone claim that unions have more assets ( money) than corporations.  

        There is more than one kind of power.  There is the power to buy and sell (money), but there is also the power to vote, to educate, to gain allies, to argue and convince.   There is the power to disrupt and the power to enable.

        People who say unions have power are not  saying that unions have money, so it is meaningless to say that they don't have money.

        Religion gives men the strength to do what should not be done.

        by bobtmn on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 12:20:40 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  "Refute"? (0+ / 0-)

        0.05% of Exxon Mobil's resources is actually a massive amount of money. Exxon Mobil is the biggest corporation in the world, has massive physical infrastructure and capital equipment, and extracts a massive amount of oil (that people use to live... without it lots of people would die).

        I agree. The comparison is facile and isn't exactly what I would call intellectually compelling.

        (-5.50,-6.67): Left Libertarian
        Leadership doesn't mean taking a straw poll and then just throwing up your hands. -Jyrinx

        by Sparhawk on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 12:22:52 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  I believe the comparison becomes a bit more (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      brae70

      meaningful when you consider the power of campaign contributions.

  •  Labor vs Capital and Profit (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Sparhawk

    Does the author attempt to debunk the myth that public and private sector unions are the same?

    The right to organize comes from the need for working people to counterbalance the profit demands of the ownership and capitalist class.

    Who are public sector union members organizing against?   Where is the power of profit and capital to offset public sector union demands?

    Religion gives men the strength to do what should not be done.

    by bobtmn on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 11:56:08 AM PST

  •  Public sector and private sector unions are so (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dirtandiron, spritegeezer, nicolemm

    similar in many ways that perhaps there is no myth at all.

    The biggest difference is that pubic sector unions may be formed to be proactive instead of reactive.  While public sector locals are not organized against the profit motive they are actually resisting a much larger myth, that of public employees being paid too much, or getting too many benefits.  A former republican governor of Florida referred to state workers as lard bricks.

    As long as unions number one job is representing their members public sector and private sector unions have much more in common than apart.

    Nothing has any meaning other than the meaning you give it. You can always give yourself a better meaning.

    by keywester on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 12:16:55 PM PST

    •  Re (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bobtmn
      As long as unions number one job is representing their members public sector and private sector unions have much more in common than apart.
      Against who, though?

      Private sector unions represent against company management and shareholders.

      Public sector unions represent against all taxpayers in a town/city/state regardless of their economic strata. It's a zero-sum game. If your police/fire/teachers get a raise, it must (mathematically) come along with a pay cut for private sector workers in an area.

      In the public sector, the owners are taxpayers, and they have all the same incentives any other company owner has (get services as cost effectively as possible).

      (-5.50,-6.67): Left Libertarian
      Leadership doesn't mean taking a straw poll and then just throwing up your hands. -Jyrinx

      by Sparhawk on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 12:27:14 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  There are some problems with your analogy (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        wasatch, Calamity Jean

        This kind of argument is made all the time - but it doesn't reflect the entire reality of the situation.

        The money earned by public sector employees goes right back into their communities - they have to buy food, housing, goods and services, etc. If you look at the current recession, one of the things that's been holding back recovery is all of the public sector employees who've been laid off or taken pay cuts. They have no money to spend at at time when the economy is suffering a real lack of demand.

        And what people 'save' in lower taxes is more than made up by the cost of obtaining services from the private sector to replace what the public sector used to provide.

        This is what gets left out of these discussions too often: public sector work isn't done to make a profit; the private sector won't do anything unless it's for profit.

        In the public sector, the owners are taxpayers, and they have all the same incentives any other company owner has (get services as cost effectively as possible).
        But - those owners are also customers as well. And once they turn to the private sector, they're no longer owners - just customers from whom a profit has to be extracted. They've just raised their own costs for nothing.

        Now you can argue that private sector profits get recycled into the community as well - to some extent. Typically, their employees are paid less well than public sector employees so they have less money to spend. And as the private sector is increasingly about bigger and bigger corporations, those profits tend to get sucked out of the community and sent off to shareholders and management a long ways off. (Think Big Box Stores versus locally owned and operated small businesses.)

        "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

        by xaxnar on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 12:53:56 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Re (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          bobtmn
          The money earned by public sector employees goes right back into their communities - they have to buy food, housing, goods and services, etc. If you look at the current recession, one of the things that's been holding back recovery is all of the public sector employees who've been laid off or taken pay cuts. They have no money to spend at at time when the economy is suffering a real lack of demand.
          I don't buy this. A community these days is pretty much defined by what it imports and what it exports. Paying public sector workers more basically diverts imports that would have gone to the private sector to public sector workers. Public sector workers do not produce exports. It's a net loss (for everyone except the public workers). Many public services are like auto insurance to most people. Do you need them? Sure, but I'm not exactly planning to spend huge amounts of cash on it.

          You could argue that the service-level private businesses (restaurants, etc) benefit from the higher public salaries, but that basically just makes the restaurants "public businesses".

          Export businesses are really the only thing that matters to a community. Factories, high-tech design centers, tourism, etc. If money from outside the community is coming in, you're on the positive side of the ledger. Those services pay for the whole party. Everything else is a loss.

          But - those owners are also customers as well. And once they turn to the private sector, they're no longer owners - just customers from whom a profit has to be extracted. They've just raised their own costs for nothing.
          If in fact their costs have been raised. Lots of big corporations outsource operations every day. Most companies don't run their own cafeterias, clean their own floors, sometimes not even owning their own buildings.

          If outsourcing these items wasn't cheaper than not doing so, these big companies wouldn't do it. You think Intel, Apple, etc likes giving free money away? And if outsourcing (or not outsourcing) is demonstrated to be more cost effective, I would argue that elected officials have a fiduciary duty to their constituents to use the more cost-effective route, just like a corporation would do.

          Now you can argue that private sector profits get recycled into the community as well - to some extent. Typically, their employees are paid less well than public sector employees so they have less money to spend. And as the private sector is increasingly about bigger and bigger corporations, those profits tend to get sucked out of the community and sent off to shareholders and management a long ways off. (Think Big Box Stores versus locally owned and operated small businesses.)
          The public sector is paid for by the private sector. Paying police more (all other things being equal) just makes those Best Buy workers poorer. Corporate wages are controlled by the market. All public workers are paid for out of export-oriented private business, and typically by the employees themselves. There is no other source of money available.

          (-5.50,-6.67): Left Libertarian
          Leadership doesn't mean taking a straw poll and then just throwing up your hands. -Jyrinx

          by Sparhawk on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 01:20:12 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  You're still not getting it (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Sparhawk, davethefave, 6412093, nicolemm

            But I admire your tenacity.

            The public sector is paid for by the private sector. Paying police more (all other things being equal) just makes those Best Buy workers poorer.
            The either/or logic is what's throwing you off here, that and some pretty simplistic assumptions. Public and private sectors overlap; public sector employees pay taxes too. The private sector makes use of public sector services all the time.

            The cop getting paid more making the Best Buy worker poorer ignores the Best Buy worker losing his/her job because the laid-off cop is no longer a customer and store sales are down.

            Corporate wages are controlled by the market. All public workers are paid for out of export-oriented private business, and typically by the employees themselves. There is no other source of money available.
            As long as you believe that, there's no point in continuing this discussion because you've just retreated behind a tautology.

            "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

            by xaxnar on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 01:46:34 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  It isn't a tautology (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              bobtmn

              It's just fundamental math. Imports = exports, always. The wealth of your community is generated by what it exports. The more it exports, the more it imports and the richer you are. All the internal machinations of how much is divvied up where do not change this fact.

              Why is Detroit failing? Because its private sector is failing. A robust private sector can support a robust public sector. The reverse is not true: a large public sector and a small private sector simply leads to decay and failure.

              Interestingly, private unions do help with this process by encouraging the corporation or owners of the business to keep money generated by the business local to the area in question. But public unions do not help with this: how can they? Public wealth is derived from the export wealth.

              The cop getting paid more making the Best Buy worker poorer ignores the Best Buy worker losing his/her job because the laid-off cop is no longer a customer and store sales are down.
              Neither the cop nor the Best Buy worker are in export-oriented business. Both of them subsist off of whatever the town actually does for industry, be it a factory, high tech design center, tourism, what have you.

              The Best Buy worker gets laid off when the factory shuts down, just like the cop does, as a flow down from the lost factory jobs that are the real economic driver in the community. Now sure, some of the non-export "businesses" like Best Buy or the police will patronize each other's services, but that's not really the driver.

              If you cut the cop's salary (assuming no tradeoff in service level), the taxpaying export factory workers get a better deal. That's a net gain for them. It isn't the factory workers' responsibility to shoulder the burden of maintaining a local economy. They just want whatever local economy serves their needs. Pissing extra money away on unnecessary services doesn't help them.

              (-5.50,-6.67): Left Libertarian
              Leadership doesn't mean taking a straw poll and then just throwing up your hands. -Jyrinx

              by Sparhawk on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 02:09:25 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  So, it seems like your argument is (0+ / 0-)

                The public sector can only grow at the expense of the private sector.

                "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

                by xaxnar on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 02:22:25 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  That's an oversimplification (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  bobtmn

                  You obviously need police or else you can't run a business. But any growth in police beyond what is necessary is obviously a dead loss, like paying for a $50k insurance policy on a $20k car. Same with road crews, pavement, parking enforcement, etc. Hire the people you need at salaries you need to pay to get them.

                  The Best Buy business will exist if there is organic demand for it. It won't if there isn't any, but the organic demand is driven (ultimately) by the local export business.

                  Also, the (federal) government does other useful work, like basic public R&D funding, that helps build private sector wealth. Most private companies who aren't Google or Xerox are too small and profit-oriented to be able to do random "this probably won't be useful soon but let's study it anyway" type of research. However, that work does grow the economy and government investment is generally a good idea.

                  Also, health care is a dead bang economic loser (globally, but it could be an export business locally like it is in Boston). However, the government can help make it less of a loser by properly implemented systems like universal health care.

                  But generally, as far as your typical locality, your statement is generally correct. Increases in the public sector can occur concurrently with increases in the private sector, assuming there is a need for it. But growth in the public sector alone must mean contraction in the private sector. There is no mathematical way it can be otherwise.

                  (-5.50,-6.67): Left Libertarian
                  Leadership doesn't mean taking a straw poll and then just throwing up your hands. -Jyrinx

                  by Sparhawk on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 02:37:01 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

        •  Collective buying power does not go up (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Sparhawk
          The money earned by public sector employees goes right back into their communities - they have to buy food, housing, goods and services, etc. If you look at the current recession, one of the things that's been holding back recovery is all of the public sector employees who've been laid off or taken pay cuts. They have no money to spend at at time when the economy is suffering a real lack of demand.
          A public sector employee who is able to go into a restaurant and buy a meal and bottle of wine is exactly offset by the loss of that option by others who paid the wages.    One individual has more money to spend because others have less.   The community as a whole has the same amount of money, just divided up differently.

          There is a joke along the lines that when Bill Gates walks into any bar, the average customer is a billionaire.  This argument that money grows by being transferred is the same.

          Religion gives men the strength to do what should not be done.

          by bobtmn on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 02:53:33 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Here we go again (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            nicolemm

            It sounds like the arguments made all the time to support austerity, and the evidence to date is that it just does not work. And we've gotten a long way from the original point of this diary, which is a discussion about union myths.

            While you're obsessing that every dollar paid out to a government employee must come out of the pocket of a private sector employee via taxes thus killing jobs etc. etc., you're completely overlooking the other side of the question - the way the private sector divides up the pie in the first place.

            The damn pie has grown in the last 3 decades, but the private sector (and public sector) employees have NOT seen their slices get any bigger. Instead, money that used to go into wages and benefits even before taxes were collected has increasingly been diverted from hourly and salaried workers into management and investors.  And the people in those categories have been paying less and less of their share of taxes even as they've been cutting wages and benefits for their workers - and putting more of the tax burden on them.

            We're not in trouble because the government is taking too much in taxes - we're in trouble because the private sector is stiffing its workers and eliminating their jobs. Pay them more and they'd automatically end up paying more in taxes from part of that increase, and they'd need less government help as well.

            Describing this as simply private sector versus public sector and talking about imports versus exports is imposing a structure that does not adequately describe the situation.

            "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

            by xaxnar on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 03:53:49 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Agree about private sector (0+ / 0-)

              I totally agree that the private sector worker has been stiffed in the last 30 years.     What I don't agree with is that public sector unionization helps them in any way.  

              In fact, I believe it hurts them, because  public sector unions are MUCH stronger, and they organize in their own interests because they do not want to carry the burden of representing the interests of the less powerful.  

              This is why we saw public sector workers come out in opposition to single payer health care or medicare-for-all.   They did not want to lose the "golden plans" they had negotiated.  They clung to this position even though it left everyone else worse off.

              Fletcher is currently the director of field services for the American Federation of Government Employees.
              The "Myth" that I started with is the myth that public sector unions are the same as private sector unions.   The author does not see that as a myth, but I do.

              Religion gives men the strength to do what should not be done.

              by bobtmn on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 08:44:08 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

          •  Without public sector employees (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            6412093, nicolemm, Dirtandiron

            like me, you wouldn't be able to read the fucking menu to order your meal and wine.

            Yeah, there's a difference between private/public. The members of public sector unions perform jobs that are far, far  more important to society than most private jobs of any type (teachers are more important to society than just about any job you can name outside of the medical field.)

            So, yeah, if you're capable of reading the menu and then calculating your tip, thank a teacher. And then STFU about your taxes going to pay for it.

            "Maybe: it's a vicious little word that could slay me"--Sara Bareilles

            by ChurchofBruce on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 05:57:42 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Re (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              6412093, bobtmn, soros
              Yeah, there's a difference between private/public. The members of public sector unions perform jobs that are far, far  more important to society than most private jobs of any type (teachers are more important to society than just about any job you can name outside of the medical field.)
              This position is very arrogant. Without the guys who keep the water pumps running, you couldn't have schools, right?

              Without pencil and pen and computer designers and manufacturers, how would you run your school?

              I'm not arguing that education isn't important, but come on people.

              (-5.50,-6.67): Left Libertarian
              Leadership doesn't mean taking a straw poll and then just throwing up your hands. -Jyrinx

              by Sparhawk on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 08:06:52 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  This is not about who is more important (0+ / 0-)

              My position in this argument is that public sector union members act arrogantly towards the private sector workers who support them, and use the power of withholding essential services to increase their share of the pie.    

              You're right that I learned to read from teachers, but back in the sixties, they were not union teachers, so it is irrelevant to public sector unions.

              This chicken/egg argument can go on forever, but where would teachers and unions be today without people like me who developed the computer systems that allow them to communicate at sites like Daily Kos?

              So, if you are capable of typing into a computer and pressing SEND, thank the private sector worker that makes it possible.

              Religion gives men the strength to do what should not be done.

              by bobtmn on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 08:26:27 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Uhm (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Dirtandiron

                since I attended a very good high school where I learned a lot way back in Ye Olden Days before anybody ever had a computer..yeah. Do they make things easier? Hell, yes. Are they necessary for teaching (especially what I teach, English)? Hell, no. You want me to give special props to Guttenburg, I'll be glad to--but computers? That's a convenience, not a necessity--not for teaching. Hell, I think it's more necessary for political organizing than teaching! My seniors, who are doing Canterbury Tales at the moment, have books. Real, actual, print books. Again, all hosannahs to Guttenburg.

                My teachers in the 70s were public union teachers, here in MA. Here's a fun task for you--check out every rating of school effectiveness by state. Then check out the percentage of public teachers in that state who are unionized. They correlate. There are plenty of states with no or few public teacher's unions--and the vast majority of them are on the bottom of the effectiveness scale. Meanwhile, my home state of MA consistently ranks top 3 in effectiveness (trading with VT and CA) and is 99% unionized (both VT and CA are about 90% unionized). That's not a fluke.

                The lowest unionized states? A huge swath across the south--you know, AL, MS, TX, etc--all those states that show up at the bottom of the school effectiveness lists.

                "Maybe: it's a vicious little word that could slay me"--Sara Bareilles

                by ChurchofBruce on Mon Nov 12, 2012 at 10:51:35 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

      •  Economics is not a zero sum game (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        tardis10

        unless people don't ever spend their money.  But they do, so it's not.

        Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity. Notes on a Theory

        by David Kaib on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 01:27:32 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  For any area (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          bobtmn

          Imports must equal exports. Export-oriented private business covers the whole tab, always.

          Private unions can help capture more of the wealth from these activities for a community. Public unions don't do that, because they can't.

          (-5.50,-6.67): Left Libertarian
          Leadership doesn't mean taking a straw poll and then just throwing up your hands. -Jyrinx

          by Sparhawk on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 01:36:54 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Public union members spend money (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            6412093

            where they live. That drives the economy where they live.  They live where they work.  

            Thankfully I don't think these facts or their relevance elude most people.

            Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity. Notes on a Theory

            by David Kaib on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 03:15:12 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  They don't produce exports (0+ / 0-)

              Exports are the only thing that drives the economy where you live. Everything else is a cost.

              (-5.50,-6.67): Left Libertarian
              Leadership doesn't mean taking a straw poll and then just throwing up your hands. -Jyrinx

              by Sparhawk on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 03:37:40 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

      •  but we don't get to negotiate with taxpayers (3+ / 0-)

        we negotiate with management, many of whom identify with corporate managers

        my neighbor's taxes may pay my salary but she has no say over whether I get my step increases or if the manager bullying a coworker should be allowed to continue doing so

        -7.75, -6.05 And these wars; they can't be won Does anyone know or care how they begun?-Matt Bellamy

        by nicolemm on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 09:30:39 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Nitpick, nitpick, nitpick (8+ / 0-)

    The photo isn't representative enough.  Comparing the resources that an individual union has with the resources of a very very large corporation is meaningless.  Public sector unions don't have the same problems private sector unions have because governments don't have large resources of capital.

    I'll only address the third one. Public unions represent teachers, policemen, firemen, janitors, anyone whose paycheck comes from a governmental agency. Do you really think that Republicans like, say, Rick Scott and Scott Walker are any less hostile to their employees than the CEO of Ford or Kraft Foods is?  They're likely to be MORE hostile, as in laying off people to turn up money because they don't want to burden their rich contributors with any more taxes.

    Honestly.

    -7.75, -8.10; All it takes is security in your own civil rights to make you complacent.

    by Dave in Northridge on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 12:19:33 PM PST

  •  one of my co-workers (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dirtandiron, xaxnar

    talks about people as 'having a union mentality', and says that union members are lazy and/or stupid.
    Irony here: hse spent several years working in a job where hse was in the union hse's complaining about. (The union local isn't happy with hir at all - hse does back-stab people and hse is able to lie without butter melting in hir mouth. And I don't trust hir any farther than I can throw hir.)

    (Is it time for the pitchforks and torches yet?)

    by PJEvans on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 12:24:34 PM PST

  •  Bigger problem - who needs labor any more? (5+ / 0-)

    There have been incredible gains in productivity since World War II ended. We just don't need as many people in the work force to crank out the same level of goods and services that it used to take. From that standpoint, an excess supply of workers puts negative pressure on wages - and the ability of the workforce to negotiate with management.

    Information technology has eliminated clerical workers on a wholesale basis. Railroads used to be one of the biggest employers in the country - and strongly union. When diesels replaced steam locomotives, entire classes of workers became redundant. Agriculture feeds our population with fewer farmers all the time. Even traditional manufacturing/assembly line jobs have gone down as the machines can do more and more of the work all by themselves. And this is on top of outsourcing and offshoring of jobs.

    Kevin Drum has the details here - many jobs are just not coming back, unions or not.

    So what we need to think about is not just unions. We have to figure out how to reconcile a huge GDP that needs fewer and fewer people to produce it all the time. The pie is growing, but we need a different way to slice it up and hand out the servings. How do we deal with abundance when so many of our institutions are still based on scarcity economics?

    And while we're doing that, we also need to be thinking about a world where cheap oil that made so much of this possible is no longer a ready commodity, climate change is going to upset quite a few apple carts, and inequality is at record levels - which is distorting our economy and our politics.

    Which is one reason why I have the sig line I do.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 12:24:38 PM PST

    •  Re (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      xaxnar, bobtmn
      So what we need to think about is not just unions. We have to figure out how to reconcile a huge GDP that needs fewer and fewer people to produce it all the time. The pie is growing, but we need a different way to slice it up and hand out the servings. How do we deal with abundance when so many of our institutions are still based on scarcity economics?

      And while we're doing that, we also need to be thinking about a world where cheap oil that made so much of this possible is no longer a ready commodity, climate change is going to upset quite a few apple carts, and inequality is at record levels - which is distorting our economy and our politics.

      Excellent point. We have to get away from scarcity economics, but perversely we may soon have to deal with scarcity economics again.

      I also would point out: the average GDP per person on the planet is about $10k. The top 1% of salaries globally is around $50k per year (not sure the precise statistic, but it's on that order). The US has inequality between its low and high earning sectors, but both low- and high- sectors in the US have inequality to third world salaries. Third worlders want to have what we have.

      (-5.50,-6.67): Left Libertarian
      Leadership doesn't mean taking a straw poll and then just throwing up your hands. -Jyrinx

      by Sparhawk on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 12:30:34 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Sparhawk's wilful ignorance about work (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    brae70, Dave in Northridge

    the working class in this country and century
    and labor unions

    used to be par for the course here at dkos.

    It's great to see how things have changed,  and the Democratic conversation has re-learned the importance of unions as the guarantee of rights in the workplace,  but also in the wider society.

    For this I say  "Thank you,  Wisconsin".

    It's not a fake orgasm; it's a real yawn.

    by sayitaintso on Sun Nov 11, 2012 at 12:52:28 PM PST

  •  Union video by Stanley Kubrick! (0+ / 0-)

    I recently saw an amazing video by Stanley Kubrick.  It  was one of the first things he ever fimed, a standard, in many ways rather laughable industrial piece, commissioned by and aimed at the Seamans' Union.  

    Shot in the 50s, the amazing thing, besides the ubiquitous cigarette smoking and natty suitwearing union gents, (people really did dress much more formally back in the day) was the tremendous power of the unions and the extensive social service network they employed for the benefit of their members.

    So next time some conservatives talk about bring back the good old days, tell 'em about union power.  It actually once existed in our nation.

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