Saturday, February 26, 2011

Democracy, Health Care and Unions

The other day I wrote that I felt that adequate health care and healthy trade unions were vital in order to keep democracy from withering in the United States. Apparently those who are, in my opinion, among the most hostile to real democracy in the United States agree with me on their importance since they are now waging on all out assault on both. 

How vigorous is this assault? So great is it that it is being noticed even in The New York Times and The Washington Post.[1] 

Consider Bob Herbert's opinion piece Absorbing the Pain in which Herbert talks with and about people who are under- or un- employed and who are facing life without health care, without homes and ultimately without hope. He specifically addresses the current attempts to limit the right of public employees to collectively bargain:

As important as that issue is, it’s just one skirmish in what’s shaping up as a long, bitter campaign to keep ordinary workers, whether union members or not, from being completely overwhelmed by the forces of unrestrained greed in this society.
The predators at the top, billionaires and millionaires, are pitting ordinary workers against one another. So we’re left with the bizarre situation of unionized workers with a pension being resented by nonunion workers without one. The swells are in the background, having a good laugh.
What seldom gets recognized or written about by the writers in newspapers such as The Times is the way in which a union's impact on wages is framed. When editorialists and opinion-writers ask the question "is it true that unionized workers make more than do those who are not" they are suggesting that if it were true then appropriate wage scales are being distorted and that the way to fix them is to lower the wages of the unionized workers. What seldom (if ever) is suggested is that the wages of the nonunionized workers be increased to rectify this distortion. Similarly it seldom, if ever, is suggested that way to deal with budget crises is to increase revenue through the tax code. I point this out because if public service workers are truly being paid too highly it might be better to clawback those wages through taxation that to break the workers union. 

We know, of course, why that will never be suggested as a solution to the budget problem. Higher taxes will hit employers and employees alike. Breaking unions will hit employees and benefit employers. And make no mistake it will benefit every employer in the state since without unions all wages and benefits will spiral even further downward.

However we should not think that all these proposals to cut the budget through the destruction of the middle-class are driven purely for the purposes of financial gain. If that were so government programs that benefited the overall health the country (and paid off fiscally in the long run) would not be under attack.

Charles M. Blow in a another Times Op-Ed piece The G.O.P.'s Abandoned Babies discusses the impact that budget decisions/cutbacks on the health of American babies. The United States, he reminds his readers, has the highest rate of infant mortality among the 33 countries the International Monetary Fund identifies as "advanced economies." Many of these infants deaths can be attributed to the high rate of premature births. That high rate was beginning to be whittled down in the last few years. The new budget cuts will eliminate or underfund the very agencies that have been distributing finds and care for pregnant women or researching ways to provide better care. As Blow points out:

It is savagely immoral and profoundly inconsistent to insist that women endure unwanted — and in some cases dangerous — pregnancies for the sake of “unborn children,” then eliminate financing designed to prevent those children from being delivered prematurely, rendering them the most fragile and vulnerable of newborns.
One cannot even argue that this budget cuts are good faith attempts to address the United States' economic woes because as Blow notes: 

[R]educing the number of premature births by just 10 percent would save thousands of babies and $2.6 billion — more than the proposed cuts to the programs listed, programs that also provide a wide variety of other services.
 When columnists and editorial writers who work at / publish newspapers that are firmly part of the political mainstream of the nation notice the deeply undemocratic nature of American policies the attacks on democracy have moved from being covert to overt. 

The next question may not be will the average American do anything about these attacks on American government rather can they?

[1]It is a truism among the right that these two papers are bastions of the left. That placement has been achieved by moving, by magical sleight of hand, the "acknowledged center"[2] of American political life significantly to the right of the average American.

[2] Acknowledged, that is, by the chattering classes. It was members of that class who declared that the "single payer option was off the table" before the health insurance debate even began.

1 comment:

  1. One of the problems I see in the UK and the USA is that unions are generally regarded as either entirely good or entirely bad, depending on who's talking about them. There's no scope for saying "they are run by imperfect human beings and they sometimes do some extremely dodgy things, but they have also done some very useful things".


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.