Saturday, March 05, 2011
Are we now in the declining century?
It appears to me that we may repeat Chinese history. We are now near the beginning of our third century. I figure that the first century started at the conclusion of the revolution, in 1783. By the 1880's we had legally abolished slavery and we had become prosperous. During the next century we became a world power. We struggled to achieve equal rights for all Americans: black, female, children, and finally gay and lesbian. Workers acquired the legal right to form and join unions and to bargain collectively for pay and working conditions.
The third century began chronologically in 1983. An important event was the mass firing of members of the union of air traffic controllers. President Reagan chose to fire them rather than bargain collectively with them. I am not going to argue whether he was right or wrong. However, according to the historical model, something like that was due to happen. That particular union did not have much popular support; its members were exceedingly well paid.
Popularity of labor unions reached a peak in the 1940's after the passage of the Wagner Labor Relations Act in the 1930's. By 1983 (or whenever the air traffic controller union was destroyed) union popularity was low enough that elected officials could attack them in public statements and pressure them to give up some hard-earned benefits. This decreasing public support for organized labor has emboldened such opportunists as the newly elected governor of Wisconsin to propose legislation to end the effectiveness of public employee unions in the State. A new majority in the State legislature is prepared to enact the governor's proposals as soon as a quorum can be achieved.
This lack of public support for labor unions, coupled with the increasing influence of large corporations with money to spend to help elect candidates who share the interests of the corporate managers seems likely to undo most of the progressive legislation of the past century. We seem to be headed for a period of low, starvation wages, undoing regulations relating to workplace safety and environmental cleanliness, and deliberate policies to achieve a level of unemployment desired by the managers. Our declining century is at hand.
Can we prevent this predictable decline and prove that Chinese history doesn't prevail here in America? I hope so.