Today this blog stands proudly shoulder-to-shoulder with the US trade union movement in its respect our rights campaign, defending the collective bargaining rights of public sector workers.
In Wisconsin, most notably, as well as Ohio, Indiana and in other states across the US, Republican legislators have passed laws curbing collective bargaining rights for public sector workers allowing public authorities to impose pay settlements and changes to terms and conditions, including pension rights, without reference to trade unions in negotiations. Inevitably, this opportunistic attack on collectivism in the workplace is being made in the name of austerity measures and the global economic crisis, and the US union movement has called today – the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination in Memphis as he supported the organising efforts of sanitation workers – as a day of solidarity action.
The ideological nature of the assault is reason enough to oppose; but it also makes little sense strategically: what will get us out of the crisis is an expansion of demand and every attack on wages and living standards makes that a less likely scenario. We know also that – as today’s TUC letter to the US ambassador points out – the declining value of real wages and the declining share of national income being taken up by wages played a role in how the crisis evolved in the first place. Furthermore, here in the UK, right-wing politicians and think tanks are no doubt watching keenly to see how much could be replicated in this country; while we know that private sector employers tend to be keen followers of US practice and that what happens over there happens over here after a lag of a couple of years. The lessons of the long-term decline in private sector union density are clear, and need to be addressed.
The right to bargain collectively with an employer is an essential freedom of modern, advanced democratic societies and it’s no good fighting for democracy abroad while ignoring it at home. An injury to one is an injury to all.