Only a purblind ideologue could miss the pattern here. American employers — more than employers in other nations and more than American employers in earlier downturns — have imposed the costs of the recession and, increasingly, the costs of doing business, on their workers, and kept for themselves damn near all the proceeds from doing business.
What gives? Are American employers meaner than their European counterparts and American forebears? I doubt it. The difference is that American workers have markedly less power than their European counterparts and their American forebears.
That’s partly because unemployment remains so high here. More fundamentally, though, the U.S. private sector is almost entirely — 93 percent — nonunion. Unlike European workers, unlike their own parents and grandparents who lived in a much more heavily unionized America, U.S. workers are now powerless to stop their employers from pocketing all the change.
The source of this problem is outlined in two reports scheduled for release Monday from two very different organizations, the liberal Human Rights Watch, and Freedom House, an organization with a staunch Lane-Kirkland-esque antipathy toward authoritarian regimes left and right: Through the weakness of our labor laws, the reports say, private-sector American workers can no longer form unions. Human Rights Watch documents how corporations that are model (and highly profitable) employers in Europe and frequently collaborate with unions there descend to American employer norms — denying workers the right to join unions — when they come over here. Freedom House, citing the near-impossibility of forming unions in this country, laments that the United States cannot be classed among the 41 nations that afford their workers full freedoms.
A union-free America. Growth down a little, employment down a lot. Profits and productivity up, wages flat. Health-care costs up for workers, down for employers. The return of a thriving middle class? Dream on.
And a happy Labor Day, one and all.
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