In Sunday’s Oregonian, right-wing affirmative action hire Elizabeth Hovde celebrated Labor Day a day early by calling for Oregon to become a “Right to Work” state. Seriously. Like other righty martinets polluting op/ed pages from coast to coast, her arguments weren’t just based on shaky facts, they were the exact opposite of the truth. Quoting the sleazy, corporate-funded Cascade Policy Institute, a local wingnut welfare outfit previously dedicated to opposing mass transit and land use laws, she guilelessly typed, in her trademark ninth-grade prose, that wages and standards of living were higher in RTW states.
Now, if Hovde were inclined to look at any actual, uh, statistics on her subject, rather than mindlessly parroting mendacious propaganda from a single, compromised source, she might have hedged a little before waxing rhapsodic about the the glorious prosperity of, say, Mississippi, but perhaps taking a cue from George Will, she simply based her arguments on lies. (In the same issue, Will blamed the UAW for GM’s near-demise….) Whether this suburban halfwit really believes such errant nonsense is immaterial; the fact that she had the guts to write it, and the editors allowed it to be printed on Labor Day Weekend, is as depressing as it is infuriating.
The actual facts? RTW states are dead last in per capita income, near the bottom in education levels, and persistently suffer from stagnant levels of economic and job growth. Work-related injuries are higher, and quality of public services lower. Thus, it ought to take a lot of guts to make such a ridiculous claim, but Hovde (and Will) both made it, proudly. Happy Labor Day, indeed.
It’s no coincidence that the decline of unionization over the past 40 years has exactly tracked the parallel decline of middle-class wages, the disappearance of pensions, the increasing numbers of those who lack health insurance, skyrocketing executive pay, and vaulting inequality. Indeed, the very arguments used by RTW propagandists, that unionized teachers and firefighters wages and benefits are “out of step with the private sector” ought to be self-refuting; the very reason public sector workers enjoy some vestigial semblance of dignity in the workplace is because the private sector has been systematically screwed as it was systematically de-unionized.
But rather than being a clarion call for labor organizing in the private sector, such arguments fall on receptive ears among the increasingly insecure middle class, who demand that public workers be dragged down to their level. The stunning inability of the general public to add two and two doesn’t just extend to wages and benefits, but to all areas of economic life.
Poor service and low quality goods are another glaring symptom of an economy that no longer works for anyone but the wealthiest; absent union protection (and the upward pressure on non-union working conditions that accompany it), harried, overworked employees are less helpful and knowledgeable, whether you encounter them in a store, office, or airplane. Goods made in Dickensian sweatshops may cost less in the short run, but end up being as disposable as the people who made them. In short, the decline of unions hurts everyone except, you guessed it, the people who finance the think tanks and elections.
As I’ve written about before but bears repeating now, a few years ago I was reading an article in the New York Times magazine about the penurious condition of “house museums,” the monuments to Gilded Age wealth that became a feature of America in its middle class heyday. With attendance declining and maintenance costs increasing, trustees were finding a once-unlikely way out of their predicament, a new breed of plutocrats ready to buy them and move in. At one antebellum plantation that had recently been sold, the soon-to-be former curator commented wistfully and without a trace of irony, “…and we had just finished restoring the slave quarters.”
No wonder it got snapped up.