May 1933: Hitler Abolishes Unions
On May 2nd, 1933, the day after Labor day, Nazi groups occupied union halls and labor leaders were arrested. Trade Unions were outlawed by Adolf Hitler, while collective bargaining and the right to strike was abolished. This was the beginning of a consolidation of power by the fascist regime which systematically wiped out all opposition groups, starting with unions, liberals, socialists, and communists using Himmler’s state police.
Fast forward to America today, particularly Wisconsin. Governor Walker and the Republican/Tea Party members of the state legislature are attempting to pass a bill that would not only severely punish public unions (with exception for the police, fire, and state trooper unions that supported his campaign), but it would effectively end 50 years to the right of these workers to collectively bargain.
Collective bargaining is a process of voluntary negotiations between employers and trade unions aimed at reaching agreements which regulate working conditions. Collective agreements usually set out wage scales, working hours, training, health and safety, overtime, grievance mechanisms and rights to participate in workplace or company affairs. -wiki
First of all, assaulting the rights of workers to collectively bargain has absolutely nothing to do with any immediate budgetary issues. It does however have everything to do with ending one of the basic rights of labor to organize.
Second, and more importantly, the budget “crisis” in Wisconsin is both exaggerated and created in part by the new Republican power base as a tool to attack political opponents. Walker decreased state revenue when he enacted tax cuts for the rich and big corporations, who are not surprisingly large campaign donors for his political campaign.
To the extent that there is an imbalance — Walker claims there is a $137 million deficit — it is not because of a drop in revenues or increases in the cost of state employee contracts, benefits or pensions. It is because Walker and his allies pushed through $140 million in new spending for special-interest groups in January. If the Legislature were simply to rescind Walker’s new spending schemes — or delay their implementation until they are offset by fresh revenues — the “crisis” would not exist. -The Cap Times
Decimating unions has long been an objective of the rich and powerful. Growing out of trade guilds in Medieval Europe, they were banned starting with the Ordinance of Labourers 1349 and Statute of Labourers in England. It was not until the Industrial Revolution that labor began to organize again.
Every little gain for the rights of workers was hard fought and bitterly resisted by the rich and powerful. The photo above shows the Lawrence Textile Strike (also known as the Bread and Roses strike) where mostly immigrant workers rebelled against increasingly harsh work conditions and lowered pay caused by mechanization. Specifically, state law mandated a reduction in working hours for women and children from 56 to 54 hours, and factory owners responded by cutting salaries, something the poor workers could not afford.
Over time, organized labor managed to abolish child labor all together, as well as institute an 8 hour work day, 40 hour work week, mandatory breaks, safety guidelines, grievance procedures, a minimum wage, the concept of a work free weekend, workers comp, pensions, health safeguards, and paid sick days, vacation days, and holidays. If you enjoy any of these things, thank a union member and support the passage of a strong Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).
Collective Bargaining in the US was finally legalized for the private sector on a countrywide scale in 1935 with the National Labor Relations Act signed by FDR. JFK signed an executive order extending this right to the public sector in 1962. This is the key measure
Governor Walker’s bill being sped through the Wisconsin legislature would mandate health insurance contributions by public employees, force them to pay more for their promised pensions, and remove bargaining rights. When public employees started protesting, Walker instructed the state National Guard to be “prepared” if any “problems” should arise, in what could be described as a thinly veiled intimidation tactic.
Although this draconian bill will not outlaw unions, it will effectively neuter them, as their CPI adjusted wages will be frozen and all other means cannot be improved as a whole. Public sector unions will lose their freedom to negotiate against the state together. This is a deliberate tactic to punish political opponents and to effectively lessen the rights of working Americans everywhere for the benefit of the rich and multinational corporations.
Walker’s plan to eviscerate collective bargaining rights for public employees is right out of the Koch brothers’ playbook. Koch-backed groups like Americans for Prosperity, the Cato Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the Reason Foundation have long taken a very antagonistic view toward public-sector unions. Several of these groups have urged the eradication of these unions. In Wisconsin, this conservative, anti-union view is being placed into action by lawmakers in sync with the deep-pocketed donors who helped them obtain power. (Walker also opposes the state’s Clean Energy Job Act, which would compel the state to increase its use of alternative energy.) At this moment—even with the Wisconsin uprising unresolved—the Koch brothers’ investment in Walker appears to be paying off. -Mother Jones
In response to this open revolt on at the Wisconsin state capitol, which saw crowds initially in the hundreds quickly swell to tens of thousands, a Tea Party group hastily organized a counter rally on Sunday. Dozens of free buses were mysteriously available from both inside and outside the state for Tea Partiers, with no mention of who paid for them, leading to speculation that this is blatant corporate astroturfing. At publishing time no camels were being charged into the estimated 70,000 pro-worker/anti-Walker demonstrators [creative humor license].
The Americans for Prosperity group, a Tea Party group that is a Koch Brothers front, has put up a website [for the Tea Party Rally that] attacks all collective bargaining – not just for public employees’ unions. -Forbes
Wisconsin is ground zero in the fight for worker’s rights in America. Following the ultra-conservative sweep of many state legislatures and governorships in the 2010 midterms, most Republicans are salivating at the opportunity to destroy the last stronghold of organized labor in America: the public sector.
Last year, more working people belonged to a union in the public sector (7.9 million) than in the private (7.4 million), despite the fact that corporate America employs five times the number of wage-earners. 37 percent of government workers belong to a union, compared with just 7 percent of private-sector employees. -Alternet
The percentage of the work force that have been organized has been declining (along with many other things) since Reagan and the conservatives took power, ending the Great Compression and starting an epoch in American history known as the Great Divergence (which culminated in the Great Recession, which we are in today). Pro-corporate, fiscally conservative policies (such as deregulation and underfunding) have severely damaged private sector unions, unions that set the bar for standards and pay for all workers (thus, contributing towards the huge wealth concentration that is taking place).
The one point where this anti-union trend has not taken place is in the public sector.
This is precisely why the conservatives (mostly in the Republican Party) and their corporate masters are now planning the next phase in their strategy: to destroy public sector unions across the country. Right now, their assault has triggered a massive and growing revolt by not only public sector unions, but students, progressives, and working men and women across the Upper Midwest region of the US.
The corporate front groups are desperately trying to play catchup and unleash their Tea Party legions, who need little convincing as apparent from the We Stand With Walker Facebook page. The fear and hate caused by disinformation and Fox Propaganda is palpable, and they are only too eager to “fight back” against supposed union transgressions both in the workplace and in demonstrations.
Which brings us back full circle. Union busting measures by Republicans in Wisconsin this week have brought up some disturbing historical parallels to another sad chapter from human history. This writer is not trying to say that Republicans are Nazis and the Tea Party are their Brownshirts, only that the union busting, corporate control over the government is part of the definition of fascism (along with authoritarian nationalism).
The attacks on unions that are taking place in American society today echoes a very sad chapter in Western history where unions were smashed for the benefit of a far right authoritarian corporate regime. When Hitler abolished unions in 1933, it was followed by a 25% drop in real wages, and ended the ability of workers to protect living standards, and this is one of those times where history should not be allowed to repeat itself.