Unions ... America’s Economic Achilles Heel
Bob Pritts is responsible for this content, which is not edited by the Wilson County News or wilsoncountynews.com.
With all the current labor struggles going on in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, California, New Jersey, and New York, with others soon to follow, now is the time to shed some light on what must be done if we ever want to see our economy once again flourish and soar to great heights. The story of Achilles is very much similar to the growth of our nation as a powerhouse in the world. And, his fate will become very much ours if we don’t change our direction, mindsets, and attitudes real soon.
According to Greek mythology, Achilles was born to a lady named Thetis. Shortly after his birth Thetis was told that Achilles would rise to great heights but would die in battle from a wound to his foot. She immediately took Achilles to the River Styx whose waters were believed to have great protective powers to anyone who bathed in or went swimming in it. She held Achilles by the heel of one foot, with her index and thumb covering a portion of his heel, submersed him in the waters but not allowing water to wash over that portion of his heel. When Achilles was a young man he went to battle. After the first few battles Achilles was recognized by other soldiers for his military genius and ferocity. As he progressed, several others things were credited to his success. He had a great curiosity, the ability to innovate and improvise on the battlefield, a track record of ever growing success, and an undaunted belief that he was part of the greatest and best fighting force in the world. Soon, all other countries in the world both feared and respected the might of Achilles’ army and his country. Everything was going his way, until his last great battle. An arrow was fast approaching and lodged itself in his ‘unwashed’ heel. He suffered an almost immediate and painful death. He had not moved his heel out of harms way quickly enough to avoid the ultimate tragedy.
Can you not place the qualities of Achilles against the qualities of our country right from the beginning? We started out as a weak, little baby of only thirteen small colonies against a world of tremendous power houses. Yet, we defeated the world’s strongest empire at that time to gain our liberty and freedom in this new country called America. From that point on we began to show our true metal. Sure, we made mistakes along the way but we learned from them. Some we discarded almost immediately as a detriment to our ultimate goals, while others were not necessarily seen as mistakes in the beginning. But even those, when found to no longer be useful or of value in pushing forward our industrial revolution growth, were discarded. One of those good ideas was the establishment of labor unions in our supplier industries that fed other entrepreneurs throughout our growth as a nation in a multitude of ways. There were drastic changes that were needed in our auto, steel manufacturing, mining, and rubber industries, to name a few. It was a matter of getting the developing companies to secure better safety and ensure better wages and benefits for their blue collar employees. This later bled over into some of the white collar workforce as well. Most recognize these unions are no longer needed but we have failed to face this straight up until just recently.
Well, here we are in 2011 and these same unions are continuing to push for higher wages, no give backs on unsustainable benefit packages, and greater union membership meaning larger dues to the union itself. The fight is no longer for the workers but for the union bosses and the very survival of unionization in the U.S. workforce. Most of the workers who continue to remain union members are very fine, upstanding folks whom we are all happy to have as our neighbors and friends. The sad part is they have listened to the hateful diatribe of the union bosses (and bought into it) over such a long period of time that they are still willing to give up their individuality, freedom, and liberty as citizens for promises that sound so good but in reality can no longer be upheld or achieved. They are now dependents.
Staunch union members, particularly in the Midwest ‘rust belt’ as well as the northeast, are now struggling with the fact that their companies no longer exist. They blame the companies but refuse to take any personal responsibility. Companies only exist for one reason ... to make a profit for their investors. When labor becomes too expensive and unbending, they either close for good or move somewhere they can stay competitive and make a reasonable return on their investment. It’s that simple. Sadly, many of the unemployed workers continue to believe in the union, are still union members, and hold on to the false notion that the union bosses will somehow come through and they will return to a job with the same or similar wages and benefits they used to enjoy. They have become so insecure over the years that they are fearful of striking out on their own ... re-educating themselves in another field, giving up their union enslavement, and becoming successful in a new, non-union company. They have totally forgotten a basic tenet of individual, free-market capitalism ... if you excel in what you do, you will be recognized and advance in stature and pay. For example, a group of engineers in a union shop are generally paid almost the same depending on their grade and can usually only advance by seniority when openings occur in a higher pay grade. You’d be hard pressed to find that in an engineering department in a private, non-union company. Exceptionally gifted engineers are compensated and/or promoted much more often, in most cases, than their department peers. The same holds true for all employees in the companies, regardless of department. And, seniority is not necessarily a consideration in management’s decision for compensation and promotion.
Much of the above is in relation to private enterprise unions. Now let’s consider what the governors of the states mentioned in the first paragraph are trying to accomplish. They realize that the cost of government service employees has gotten way out of hand ... particularly with regard to outrageous benefit packages. In the 1930’s FDR came out totally opposed to unionization of government employees. In 1959, the first president of the AFL/CIO, George Sweeney, gave a speech totally opposing the unionization of government service employees. They had good reason. Unionization requires negotiations between company owners and employees. How does one negotiate between government employees and investors when there are no owners in Washington or the state capitols? We the people are the owners of the country and our states. Do you remember voting on wage or benefit increases for any of our government employees? No. That’s what the governors are saying (rightfully) is the major problem with balancing their state budgets. Government employees have experienced yearly wage and benefit increases even in eras of hard times. It’s become so automatic that at this point in time their wages and benefits far exceed most private enterprise employees working for a for profit corporation. It must stop! At a time when our nation is living with a true unemployment of 16% of the workforce, all federal employees received a 2.8% across the board raise in January of this year. Plus the size of the government workforce grew! If you cannot see that this must be reigned in, then you are definitely sleeping and totally unaware of the pain we all must endure to get out of our current recession. That must include government service employees. After all, the folks asked to pay for the government increases is ‘unemployed’ us (or worse yet, the Chinese)!