Monday, May 9, 2011

A Battle Over Labor

I just finished reading an article that referenced a situation in South Carolina that a friend of mine, a conservative, brought to my attention during the madness in Wisconsin.  I can't recall his specific comment, but it essentially was one where he suggested that the Obama administration was hindering job creation in South Carolina.  On its face, that does sound bad indeed.  However, as with anything, the situation is more complicated than it seems.

Anyone who has bothered to study the history of the South knows that anti-union feelings are generational, particularly for white Southerners, and that feeling was one part of the reason that the South lagged behind the rest of the nation for generations in terms of the creation of strong middle class workers.  Government (local through federal) and government related jobs really represented the back bone of the middle class in the South, jobs where collective bargaining never gained a real foothold in the region.

In all honesty, I don't know where I stand on this.  I think that it's important for workers to have livable wages and benefits, something that has helped millions of Americans move into the middle class in generations past.  And I will admit that I am not a fan of right to work states.  The presumption is that they are more "pro-business."  I think a more apt description is that they are more "pro-profits for the top tier of management, and if workers get a bonus every now and then, fine."  I also have a problem with the notion that all of labor is bad.  Much of what we know of, in terms of our work environment, is due directly to the sacrifices made through the American Labor Movement. 

Yet, in times as tough as these, job creation is important.  It is true that a job is better than no job in tough, but I think it's important that folks not pretend that "a job" always means "a good job."  Boeing is looking for a way keep more of its profits (for upper management and shareholders, of course), and it sounds like they are taking a swipe at the labor groups in Washington state that they have had to deal with, because their demands hinder that profit goal.  I want to say that South Carolina's asset is that it agrees with the management's perspective; workers deserve what they get, and should just be happy to have a job.  That sensibility always will give me pause.


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