Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Business of the Labor Department is Business?

The battle against workers continues apace. Ohio is considering an anti-union bill that would strip public sector workers of the right collectively bargain and to strike. But what's perhaps more interesting are the actions of the governor of Maine this week. Republican Governor Paul Le Page took a far more symbolic move against workers when he ordered a mural to removed from the department of labor. The mural, which depicted the struggles of organized labor, was removed on the grounds that the labor department was not an "appropriate venue," to discuss the history of worker's rights. Apparently the labor department needs to be less concerned with labor. This illustrates a more troubling aspect of the current wave of anti-unionism sweeping through GOP controlled state houses. By depicting public sector unions as greedy special interests getting in the way of our prosperity, the GOP are perversely arguing that the only interest group worthy of government attention is business. The main thrust of their narrative - that nurses, teachers and state employees are interest groups while businesses are not - is of course, utter nonsense. Any group that lobbies the government to seek a favorable legislative outcome is an interest group. Business organizations do this all the time. So, if and when the GOP does succeed in eviscerating workers organizations, they are not removing special interests from the legislative process. Rather, they are whittling down the effective interests to the one that most often supports their party. Competition among interest groups is not something we should be trying to stop. On the contrary. It is in fact, the way our democracy works. Whether or not you think unions are the best way to organize a labor market, this attack on the political capacities of American workers should be a concern for anyone interested in the health of our system.