A time to reflect on Big Labor and Big Business
© by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, September 3, 2015


Yes, Labor Day was created as a celebration of unions, then adopted by many of us non-union workers as a celebration of, and a well-deserved holiday from, the productive work that gave us our relatively comfortable American lives.

Most of us were lucky enough to have jobs, some starting in our youth after school and during the summer. Work, labor, our independence, the things we could buy, like a home and a car, were part of the American Dream.

Many academics have been studying the decline of that dream, and I’ve read what I could, but: Here is just what I’ve noticed myself as I lived through the “Declining” Era.

In my youth, in the typical middle-class family (in which, I should mention, two parents were married), the father worked to provide for his wife and children. The mother may have worked part time, but mostly she was home with the children.

I wasn’t alone among their female children in wanting more independence. It’s significant that some of our mothers, and even our fathers, encouraged our learning a skill before marrying – nursing, teaching, secretarial work. My dad thought I should become an executive secretary or maybe a librarian. This is why I became the first in my direct family to go to college; while I didn’t graduate, the skills I picked up in two years came in handy after the second divorce.

So while we can discuss another time the effect that female independence had on the family over the years, my point today is that society’s economic sector quickly became accustomed to families with two paychecks, and prices rose to match that extra money. Eventually, some of that independence led to the single-parent family and the single paycheck again, often causing economic hardship unless unmarried fathers took financial responsibility for their children.

So in some cases we’re back where we started, with one paycheck, except still with a society whose homemaking prices are assuming two paychecks. “Full employment” seems to include jobs for both parents in a family, many more people than were expected to be employed during my childhood. However, for most of my adult life, this seemed a viable status quo.

And to mention in passing: our immigration policy made sense and added to the workforce as addition was needed, while welfare that replaced work was tightly restricted to families that were temporarily going through hard times.

Then, along with today’s illegal immigration and generational welfare issues, this is what went wrong, it seems to me.

First, the labor movement, which had kept Big Business under control, got greedy and became Big Labor. Its excessive demands, happening as the world itself shrunk, encouraged business to move its jobs overseas.



Illustration By Barry Locke
The Weekly Standard
Nov. 21, 2011

This was most evident in the American auto industry, though the auto tycoons also contributed to decline by missing my generation’s desire for a smaller, more efficient, more affordable car. The American automobiles we grew up with were replaced among my peer group with the German VW bug, then trustworthy Japanese cars – and many of us never looked back, though I was happy enough when I learned that my beloved Honda was being at least assembled in Ohio. “Buy American” is still a happy, patriotic slogan, when one can still find "American" to buy.

So the private-sector unions take much of the blame, but they’ve also suffered the consequences, with union membership dropping from its peak in 1954 of 28.3 percent to just over 11 percent today – a level that can’t protect working people from the outsourcing that has grown far beyond the original motivation of avoiding union excess. The pro-union Democratic Party turned away from the private-sector unions and began giving outrageous benefits to the public-sector unions, whose jobs had to remain local. These chickens are starting to come home to roost, too, as communities can’t afford to keep paying the “negotiated” benefits.

But then there is the Republican Party, which still preaches “trickle-down/supply-side economics, banking and environmental “deregulation,” “a self-regulating marketplace” and “free trade.”

Since I wasn’t influenced by a college economics course, I never hesitated to consider the economics of John Kenneth Galbraith, as interpreted by liberal academics during political debates, as completely nuts. But the counter theories of the Reagan Revolution – which seemed valid at the time — don’t make much sense to me anymore, either. While they might work theoretically, hand them to today’s Big Government/Big Business power structure and they get adjusted to benefit those whose greed matches that which has almost destroyed Big Labor.

Then there’s the Republican urging for general “growth.” I’ve long been asking Republican friends, “Where are we growing TO?” How can we continue as a consumer economy, in which a president responds to a major terrorist attack by telling us to go shopping? I recall that as the moment that I gently discarded what I had been taught during my early activist years, and started looking for a different way to run an economy. I found my way back to the origins of our country, during which Benjamin Franklin advocated thrift, not waste; and to Republican Teddy Roosevelt’s battle for conservation of our natural resources. This is where I remain.

I define good “growth” as new businesses addressing the above problems, creating exports to address our trade deficit, cleaning up the environment and facing drought with water-saving inventions and methodologies.

Franklin also wrote, “I think the best way of doing good to the poor is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it.” Following his advice would help solve the illegal immigration problem, too.

One thing that still remains is the American entrepreneurial spirit, and the spiritual descendants of the 1773 Tea Party, who I hope are preparing another revolution.

Our Founding Fathers would roll over in their graves at the sight of $18 trillion in national debt. Labor Day: let’s admit what it means today, that our grandchildren will labor to pay our country’s debts, that we didn’t tax ourselves to pay but just enjoyed the fruits of our borrowing.

We have much to be ashamed of this weekend. Starting Tuesday, let’s labor together to fix our country.

Barbara Anderson of Marblehead is a weekly Salem News columnist.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

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