Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Haves & Have-Nots (and the Unions)


The Haves and Have-Nots
(and the Unions)

The present administrations (federal, state and local) are adamant about lumping people in two categories – the Haves and the Have-Nots. The middle class, particularly the upper middle class, is a dying class. Many of those people who were among this group are still trying to live the good life – at the expense of burying themselves in debt.

When the economy is booming it’s OK for those in control – the lawmakers, who are almost exclusively part of the Haves – to share the wealth. If a bill is introduced to increase the minimum wage…why not? Another to extend unemployment benefits…sure. Then there’s another vote – on the funding of the free school lunch program…passed. Tax breaks and incentives are routinely doled out to big businesses and universities as they expand their operations and threaten to move to a more tax-friendly location. When the country’s economy is flourishing (and therefore there is less urgency to these programs) the votes are always there to push them through – even in a Republican controlled body.

When the economy slows down, however, support for social programs and bills designed at aiding the Have-Nots suddenly disappears. It’s now down to an “us against them” mentality for our lawmakers. Bills are introduced which are designed to allow the Haves to hold onto their wealth – tax cuts for the wealthy or reduction of the capital-gains tax are the orders of the day. When discussions turn to social programs the attitude is generally, “We took care of them is the last session, now is the time to be tightening our belts, not the time to be digging ourselves a deeper hole”. This, despite the fact there is a much greater need for these types of programs in a tough economic climate. The first ones to feel the effects of this belt-tightening are the Have-Nots. The next ones to feel the pinch are the state and municipal unions.

When the politicians are ‘circling the wagons’ to desperately keep their budgets in the black, the first thing they do is turn to their Tough Times Playbook. Right there on the front page, between ‘No increases in programs that don’t generate income’ and ‘Increase incentives to big business to stimulate the economy’ is ‘Demand give-backs from unions’. Listed in this section, under the heading ‘Strategies’, are suggestions on how to make the union workers seem over compensated. Suggestions such as, ‘Compare their salaries with the lower income manufacturing and jewelry industry workers’. ‘Point out that the citizens are paying for the union member’s pension’.

There are also sub-sections on topics to avoid. ‘Don’t allow the unions to compare their compensation with decent-paying companies such as the public utility workers – gas company, electric company, telephone company, etc.’. These companies pay better wages than the state and municipal workers receive and have generous benefit packages. ‘Don’t allow the unions to compare their salaries to successful private employers in the area. Companies such as the Providence Journal, Textron, Blue Cross, etc.’. These non-public companies have good compensation packages and incentives for their employees – far and away more generous than those of state and municipal workers.

Above all else, the number one subject to avoid is wage, benefit and perks packages for CEO’s and upper management of large corporations that have benefited from tax breaks and incentives. Even when these figures are estimated by reporters or others, the only defense (there is no reasonable defense) is to ignore the questions until media and public attention can be successfully diverted in another direction. These people are, after all, the constituents who finance the campaigns that will keep them in office. They will also be the corporations that will employ these politicians after they leave “public service”.

This is the point we find ourselves in at this time. Until a Democrat takes the White House I fear we’re in for more of the same.

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