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December 9, 2007

Robert Reich: Don't Blame Ronald Reagan or Corporate Greed

Is Labor Day anything more to you than a long weekend, if it's even that? Will you be taking a moment to reflect on the "social and economic achievements of American workers"?:

What Happened to Labor Day?, by Robert Reich: ...Most young people today have no memory of a time when Walter Reuther of the UAW and John L. Lewis of the United Mine Workers were household names, ... when productivity gains pushed wages up, and when more than a third of the American workforce was unionized.

Now fewer than 8 percent of America's private sector workers are in unions, median wage gains have fallen far behind productivity gains, and for most of us Labor Day means a long weekend.

What happened? Some say it started in the early 80s after Ronald Reagan fired the nation's air-traffic controllers for striking - something they had no legal right to do - and thereby legitimized a wave of corporate union busting. Others blame it on a more pervasive "greed is good" aggressiveness that engulfed corporate suites starting right about then. ...

But don't blame Ronald Reagan or corporate greed. Blame us - you and me. You see, starting about 30 years ago and with increasing efficiency, technologies have given us consumers a world of choice - low priced goods and services that often depend on low wages here and elsewhere. ...

In other words, we as a nation have traded off lower priced goods and services, in place of a unionized workforce with the bargaining clout to get higher wages. So now, a lot of us get good consumer deals and lousy paychecks.

No one trumpeted this choice. It's happened gradually. But is it the right choice? That's what we ought to be asking ourselves -- at least once a year, on Labor Day.

"But don't blame Ronald Reagan or corporate greed." To explain the decline of unions, do we only get to choose one item from the list, or can we also cite, say, Reagan too? My choice is all of the above.

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