Across the US, politicians are railing against the terrible abuses of powerful union bosses, especially in state government. Many of those politicians are Republicans. But far from all of them. In New York, the freshly minted Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, has joined the backlash, asking for a wage freeze for all public workers. In many states, new laws are being considered that will trim union rights, such as the ability to get fees from their members or the right to negotiate a union contract or even form a union at all. In Ohio, a new Republican governor wants to ban strikes by public school teachers. In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie's attacks on unions have become a YouTube sensation.
What is perverse about this trend is just how vastly it misunderstands what went wrong with the American economy. No one is denying that this is a time for belt-tightening. Or that some unions have problems. Or that some union contracts look over-generous in austerity America. But the fundamental truth remains: powerful and reckless unions did not cause the Great Recession by rampant speculation. Nor did an out-of-control labour movement cause or burst the housing bubble. It was not union bosses who packaged up complex derivatives to sell in their millions and thus wrecked the economy and put millions out of work. Nor was it union bosses who awarded (and continue to award) themselves salaries worth hundreds of millions of dollars for doing nothing of social value. Neither was it the union movement that was bailed out by the taxpayer and then refused to change its habits.
All that was the work of the finance industry