The battle has resumed in Wisconsin. The state
supreme court has allowed Governor Scott Walker to strip bargaining
rights from state workers.
Meanwhile, governors and legislators in New Hampshire and Missouri
are attacking private unions, seeking to make the states so-called "open
shop" where workers can get all the benefits of being union members
without paying union dues. Needless to say this ploy undermines the
capacity of unions to do much of anything. Other Republican governors
and legislatures are following suit.
Republicans in Congress are taking aim at the National Labor
Relations Board, which issued a relatively minor proposed rule change
allowing workers to vote on whether to unionize soon after a union has
been proposed, rather than allowing employers to delay the vote for
years. Many employers have used the delaying tactics to retaliate
against workers who try to organize, and intimidate others into
rejecting a union.
This war on workers' rights is an assault on the middle class, and it is undermining the American economy.
The American economy can't get out of neutral until American workers
have more money in their pockets to buy what they produce. And unions
are the best way to give them the bargaining power to get better pay.
For three decades after World War II -- I call it the "Great
Prosperity" -- wages rose in tandem with productivity. Americans shared
the gains of growth, and had enough money to buy what they produced.
That's largely due to the role of labor unions. In 1955, over a third
of American workers in the private sector were unionized. Today, fewer
than 7 percent are.
With the decline of unions came the stagnation of American wages.
More and more of the total income and wealth of America has gone to the
very top. Middle-class purchasing power depended on mothers going into
paid work, everyone working longer hours, and, finally, the middle class
going deep into debt, using their homes as collateral.
But now all these coping mechanisms are exhausted -- and we're living with the consequence.
Some say the Great Prosperity was an anomaly. America's major
competitors lay in ruins. We had the world to ourselves. According to
this view, there's no going back.
But this view is wrong. If you want to see the same basic bargain we had then, take a look at Germany now.
Germany is growing much faster than the United States. Its unemployment rate is now only 6.1 percent (we're now at 9.1 percent).
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What's Germany's secret? In sharp contrast to the decades of stagnant
wages in America, real average hourly pay has risen almost 30 percent
there since 1985. Germany has been investing substantially in education
How did German workers do it? A big part of the story is German labor
unions are still powerful enough to insist that German workers get
their fair share of the economy's gains.
That's why pay at the top in Germany hasn't risen any faster than pay
in the middle. As David Leonhardt reported in the New York Times
recently, the top 1 percent of German households earns about 11 percent
of all income -- a percent that hasn't changed in four decades.
Contrast this with the United States, where the top 1 percent went
from getting 9 percent of total income in the late 1970s to more than 20