As Labor Day weekend gets under way the talk will inevitably turn to the diminished influence of unions, both in terms of declining membership and their diminished influence in politics.
It makes me think of my hometown of Wichita, Kansas. Wichita was ahead of it's time in terms of being anti-union. It was a blue collar town that hated blue collar workers, and it hated union workers most of all. For decades Wichita was home to several large aircraft factories belonging to Cessna, Lear and, of course, Boeing. These factories were union shops in a "right to work" state (Kansas) and were pretty much the only factory jobs in Wichita in which a worker could expect really good pay and benefits, and those workers were hated and resented for it.
Every time one of the aircraft unions went on strike the anti-union hatred would boil over. Poorly paid non-union workers would scream "How dare they strike when they're making all that money!" Yet, the next time Boeing or Lear were taking applications those same union haters would be lining up by the thousands for a chance at those union jobs, with their good pay and benefits. For many it was the only chance to escape the near poverty wages most Wichita factories were paying, a chance to be solidly middle class, a chance to send their kids to collage, a chance to reach the American dream.
There was a time in cities like St. Louis that when a worker would see someone in their trade getting more pay and benefits their natural reaction was to say "Hey, I should be getting that kind of compensation too". Now the reaction is to say "I don't get that kind of compensation and neither should they". It's a race to the bottom.
So how far has the American middle class fallen? We now have reached the point that teachers, yes teachers, are the subject of class envy because they receive slightly better benefits than the rest of us. Not long ago teachers were almost universally regarded as underpaid public servants. If your child wanted to go into teaching, you might have tried to talk them out of it, "you wont make any money as a teacher", you would have said. Now they are seen as greedy union types because they have -gasp- pensions.
While it is socially acceptable to resent your neighbor because he or she is doing just a little better than you, it is considered class warfare to question the massive pay increases that corporate CEOs have been receiving even as the economy stalls. American workers have become a pack of wolves fighting over fat cat scraps. Do you hear the laughter in the background? That's the sound of the rich on their way to the bank.