In the 1979 film “Norma Rae,” Academy Award-winner Sally Field, playing a textile worker, chats with Ron Liebman, a union organizer. “I know the union’s the only way we’re gonna get our own voice, make ourselves better,” he tells her. She nods. “I guess that’s why I push,” she says.
Today’s labor unions aren’t pushing for a voice. They’re pushing for better benefits; they’re pushing for higher wages; they’re pushing for more retirement pay. And they’re pushing American-style capitalism over a cliff.
While America’s trade unions are hardly conspiring to bring capitalism down about our ears, trade union leadership couldn’t care less about the current economic crisis. They’re still pushing for their perks. The union leadership is no longer in business to create decent jobs — the union leadership is in business to boost its own power.
Take the Big Three automakers, for example. General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler are in danger of bankruptcy. It isn’t because they lack the technical know-how or the manufacturing capacity — it’s because the United Auto Workers have made the cost of labor untenable. Writing Nov. 19 in the New York Times, former Michigan Gov. Mitt Romney stated that because of the UAW, American cars cost an average of $2,000 more to make than foreign cars. The average UAW worker makes $75 per hour in salary and benefits, as compared to $42-$48 per hour for workers in Japanese plants in the United States. The average UAW worker has an expensive health plan including laser eye surgery, hearing aids, and dental care — and it costs him just a $10 premium per month. The retirement plans for UAW workers are even better — that’s why GM has three times as many retirees on the payroll as active workers. Chrysler workers get seven weeks of vacation time per year.
While the Big Three struggle to keep out of bankruptcy, the UAW refuses to sit down at the bargaining table to work out a solution. They insist instead that U.S. taxpayers bail out the Big Three so that UAW workers can receive their negotiated benefits. Explains UAW President Ron Gettelfinger, “We do not believe there is any justification for conditioning assistance to the Detroit-based auto companies on further deep cuts in wages and benefits for active and retired workers.”
Gettelfinger’s “Bailout First” strategy essentially turns union members into government workers — taxpayer money would be paying for those plush benefits. But union bosses are more than OK with that — after all, they have a cozy relationship with the Democratic Party, which will soon control both houses of Congress and the White House. Unions have ensured that the Obama administration will be friendlier than a tomcat in heat. The UAW leadership unanimously endorsed Obama for president, and the AFL-CIO spent $53.4 million to get him elected.
Obama has already signaled that he plans to strengthen America’s unions by introducing the card check program, which eliminates the secret ballot for workers in any union vote. This essentially allows union thugs to pressure non-union members into approving unions.
The renewed growth of the private sector union spells disaster for American industry. With consumers staying home and product prices dropping rapidly, a free market in labor becomes the most integral element to economic recovery. Companies must cut costs in order to remain in business, providing cheap goods that ramp up demand again. But those cheap goods become unavailable when the cost of labor remains high. And so the companies shut down, and millions of jobs are lost.
Why would the union bosses allow private businesses to go bankrupt? Because they aren’t uncomfortable with the idea of the government running American businesses. While unions have generally fallen out of favor in the private sector — only 7.5 percent of private sector workers are unionized — they’ve remained stronger than ever in the public sector, where 35.9 percent of workers were unionized as of 2007. The strongest unions in the country are all public unions, and virtually all of them have earned incredible benefits and quasi-tenure for their members. If private industry is forced to become government industry, the private sector unions won’t mind. They’ll simply be negotiating with the bureaucrats they helped elect rather than the management they hate.
America is no longer a nation of Norma Raes. We don’t need union heavies breathing down our necks, asking for our protection money while forcing us into the unemployment lines. No one is reverting to the bad old days of child labor and worker maltreatment. Once worker safety has been achieved, the free market must take over, or we’ll all be working for the government.