Anyone suggesting there is no role for unions in America today might first consider a fact of history: over a century ago, when oligarchs and the companies they owned had treated workers as if they were livestock, reduced to living in squalid pens with rationed food and water, it was unions that organized these workers to resist. It was unions who gave these workers back their humanity, and negotiated collective bargaining agreements and laws that eliminated child labor, enforced workplace safety, established an 8 hour work day, paid overtime, health benefits, and retirement pensions.
Unions today operate in a very different America. But how big labor has adapted calls into question their commitment to helping all American workers have a chance at a middle class lifestyle. In critical areas affecting everyone trying to thrive in 21st century America, unions have betrayed the American worker. In particular, their failure to challenge the globalist agenda of open borders and environmentalist extremism has inverted their priorities, putting them into alignment with the corporations and oligarchs they once so nobly opposed. This betrayal is most exemplified in the agenda of unions that didn’t exist a century ago, America’s powerful unions of government employees.
Government Unions Control and Corrupt Public Services
A distinction must be made between public sector unions, and the now less influential private sector unions. Public sector unions today have embraced a potent blend of toxic ideologies, centered around woke politics and environmentalist extremism. The most powerful public sector unions, those representing teachers and school employees, have forced this ideology into the public schools. This has not only indoctrinated a generation of young voters to vote for leftists, it has left them without the literacy and numeracy necessary to more easily grasp the nihilistic essence of leftism.
In critical ways, government unions don’t even fulfil the basic definition of a union. They don’t negotiate with independent management, they “negotiate” with politicians they elect. In California, public sector unions collect and spend nearly $1.0 billion per year, applying at least one-third of that spending to explicitly political activities such as lobbying and campaign contributions. Another third is spent on allegedly nonpolitical activities such as public education which almost invariably has a political objective. Even in a state as big as California, spending $1.2 billion every election cycle will buy a lot of politicians and profoundly influence public opinion.
Government unions also don’t have to rely on the profitability of the enterprise they’re negotiating with. Unions have to be more reasonable when negotiating with private employers because they can go out of business. But government agencies just increase taxes, and in “information campaigns” using public money, abetted by public union money, more taxes and more borrowing are repeatedly sold to voters. In November 2022, in deep blue, union controlled California, taxpayers approved 92 bonds totaling $23 billion in new local government borrowing, and they approved 152 local tax increases, set to raise another $1.6 billion per year in perpetuity.
Government unions, contrary to the essential notion of a union, are not fighting power structures. They are the power, and they use it to further their agenda – higher pay and more workers, which in-turn means more government programs and higher taxes. And thanks to their ideological preferences, the programs they promote, such as inefficient renewable energy mandates and counterproductive policies towards crime and the unhoused, repeatedly fail and in so doing require even more spending. Thus for government unions, failure is success, because the remedy is always more government. But what about private sector unions?
How Private Sector Unions Betray the American Worker
The problem with private sector unions is not because they want to maintain and increase their wages and benefits. There are compelling reasons why private sector unions, properly regulated, ought to be a necessary counterweight to private corporate interests. The problem is that the American oligarchy, which intends to flatten the world, erase national sovereignty, obliterate the middle class, and abolish borders, cultures, cash, small businesses, medium size businesses, and decentralized private ownership, has coopted private sector unions.
When was the last time anyone heard the leader of a national labor organization call for controlled immigration, which is a certain way to keep upward pressure on wages? When in recent years have any private labor leaders called for anti-trust legislation against the handful of trillion dollar hedge funds that are buying up America’s housing stock to turn us into a nation of renters, or called for the breakup of the cartel that controls the nation’s food supply? Where were the unions, when the nation was in lockdown for nearly two years, devastating small businesses and driving households into crippling debt and bankruptcy?
America’s private sector unions are vocal proponents of every item on the leftist agenda, but they are not doing anything to help the vast majority of American workers, even as they engage in a handful of labor actions, scattered across the country. And what every defender of leftism and unions must understand is that there is no longer any significant functional difference between “leftist” state ownership and “right-wing” ownership by monopoly corporations that have coopted the state. One is called communism, the other fascism. They are both authoritarian political models that are founded on centralized control. What the American oligarchy has evolved into is soft fascism. Soft, because with the high-tech tools available today, mass persuasion is easy. And it is here, where private sector unions have committed perhaps the biggest betrayal of all.
Instead of recognizing the so-called Green New Deal, or Great Reset, as a corporate tool designed to transfer upward and further centralize wealth at the same time as it reduces ordinary workers into living in micromanaged pens with rationed food and water, unions endorse it. Their endorsement finds expression in their support for policies guaranteed to achieve this pernicious goal. They support hundreds of billions, and ultimately trillions, in government spending to build, for example, large-scale CO2 capture facilities, EV charging stations, and floating wind turbines. They support urban rezoning to construct high-rise apartments, and light rail mass transit. All of these projects are staggeringly expensive, and not one of them will yield practical economic benefits downstream. Union construction workers will get jobs, big civil engineering firms will get government contracts, but the ordinary American will pay for these projects at a price they can’t afford. It isn’t as if there aren’t obvious alternatives.
Private sector union leadership has abandoned a common sense principle of fundamental importance: how public infrastructure priorities are set determines whether or not ordinary Americans are able to achieve and maintain a middle class lifestyle. California’s bullet train project is a classic example. After over a decade of work and over $10 billion already spent, not a single track has been laid. The cost for the first segment, which transits the emptiest, flattest stretch of the entire planned line, is estimated to cost over $200 million per mile. The entire project is now projected to cost $130 billion, with no credible completion date, and it will always be an economic drain on Californians.
In order to follow the path of least resistance private sector unions in California support this fraud. It is make work, designed to appease unions while preventing their workers from completing projects that make economic sense: widening and upgrading roads and freeways, upgrading existing railroad lines, bringing California’s remarkable system of water storage and transport into the 21st century, building wastewater recycling and desalination plants, upgrading the state’s capacity to engage in oil extraction and refining, increasing natural gas drilling and upgrading the distribution pipelines, and building more nuclear power stations. Much of this work could be accomplished with private funds. But the unions, and the corporations with which they have made common cause, will not challenge the extreme environmentalists, or the oligarchy that finds them so useful.
Private sector unions are one of the last special interest groups left in America that still has the power to change national policy. As the nation slowly transitions into a technology driven police state, with a workforce disenfranchised and impoverished by “climate” mandates, mass immigration, and intelligent machines, the potential will grow for unions to exercise bipartisan appeal. The only question that remains is will any of them have the courage to fight the trend and challenge the power. Or will they continue to be part of the establishment they were meant to oppose.
This article originally appeared in American Greatness.
Edward Ring is a contributing editor and senior fellow with the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. He is also a senior fellow with the Center for American Greatness, and a regular contributor to the California Globe. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, Forbes, and other media outlets.
To help support more content and policy analysis like this, please click here.