The public sector of the U. S. economy is the single biggest employer of African Americans. It is one of the top employers of Latinos as well. As such, even with significant racial wage differentials (black and brown workers in government jobs make approximately 80 cents to every one dollar made by whites) employment in federal, state and local government jobs has been the most important element in stabilizing economic life in these communities.
This basic fact of economic life has benefited all Americans.
It is not difficult to figure out why. Civil rights protections, coupled with union contracts and civil service laws have helped even out job opportunities and lessened wage discrimination. Non-union workers benefit by federal and state wage union wage levels.
Without these historic advances made possible by the New Deal and the civil rights revolution of the 1960s, black Americans and Latinos, already in a precarious position in the capitalist economy, would be far worse off.
If the Republican Party has its way, that grim “far worse off” eventuality may well become true. Because of the Great Recession and job loss, union membership is at an historic low.
In addition, under the guise of “fiscal responsibility” the tea party GOP extreme right at both the federal and state level is wielding a two-edged sword aimed at the heart of the black and Latino community’s economic life.
One edge of the sword is directed at laying off hundreds of thousands of state workers, the other is aimed at breaking their unions by attacking collective bargaining.
During the fall mid-term campaign, a Washington Post columnist anticipated the assault, writing “…in an era of increasing discontent over taxes, government spending and the perks of government employees, these are not necessarily the allies you want to have. A party that depends on the public employees to get elected will have trouble reaching out to the wider electorate — i.e., the people who pay the taxes that support public employee salaries and pensions.” Read more here.
Thus, Republican governors hope by “appealing to people who pay the taxes” to disrupt union political action campaigns in key battleground states. By breaking the black-brown-labor alliance and and dividing the political center, the tea party hopes a well-aimed blow will guarantee a victory.
Republicans, however, by attacking collective bargaining may well have overstepped. Polls have shown that Democratic and independent white workers in the battleground states, both union and non-union including in law enforcement, are not taking the bait. Instead they are rallying to the cause.
Workers will not compromise on their union organizing rights. Truth be told, they need not give in wage and benefit concessions either. By eliminating the Bush tax cuts, the deficits can be made up.
Recall efforts in Wisconsin and others states could shift the political balance; if so an alliance, broader and deeper than the one that elected Obama and a center-left majority in 2008, may well be in the process of being built. Clearly the fight for public workers with all its many implications is a key part of this battle.
Photo: People’s World