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HomeIllinois NewsBiga: Time for GOP to shift its Anti-Union Stance

Biga: Time for GOP to shift its Anti-Union Stance




Conservatives come in all shapes and sizes, with a wide political spectrum of priorities and beliefs. Illinois Review welcomes another voice to our 10 year old discussion crossroads – Frank J Biga III – who has offered to share his perspectives with our readers. He's running as a delegate for Donald J. Trump in Illinois March 15th GOP primary. 

By Frank J Biga III - 

For six election cycles now the Republican Party has struggled to win at the national level. Only once, in 2004, has its Presidential candidate received a majority of the popular vote. This struggle for 270 is becoming harder and harder. But it shouldn’t be this way. The decline from huge victories in the 1980s to the bare minimum victories of the Bush era was too abrupt. And one of the main reasons for this has been the Republicans rhetoric and attitude towards unions.

In other words, it lost the Reagan Democrats. But are unions today really a tool to reach conservative ends and should the Republican party reconsider its dogmatic opposition to them?

Conservatives have been arguing for decades that unions raise the cost of doing business and destroy jobs. Now any economics textbook will indeed cite collective bargaining as an example of above-equilibrium wages. But often left out of this argument is that there are other examples of above-equilibrium wages as well. One of them is called Efficiency Wages and it was most exemplified by Henry Ford who paid his workers $5 a day back in the 1920s and this was and is hailed by many as sound management. It is generally lauded as such because the higher wages made it easier for Ford to sell more cars to his own workers. It can be argued that a lack of demand is what ails our economy now as inflation is low despite record low interest rates for a record time.

Efficiency Wages can also be defended in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as workers who are paid more than enough to fund a modest lifestyle are more productive and creative as they have less economic concerns to worry about. So, out of higher wages the economy gets both a demand-sided boost as well as a supply-sided increase.

Now unions through collective bargaining do essentially the same thing as owners do on their own through efficiency wages but they do it through organizing and negotiating for these higher wages for American workers. This puts more money in their pockets, making it easier to maintain a middle class lifestyle and build families – both certainly good things from a conservative viewpoint. Some would argue that it was unions that built the middle class in the United States. I wouldn’t go that far but they certainly played a role.

Of course, higher wages may indeed reduce the number of jobs available in some industries. But if immigration is kept to a more reasonable level as it was from the 1920s through the 1960s, this will be less of a problem. And if some level of higher tariffs is re-introduced, protection for American companies will make it more likely they will have the revenue to finance higher wages. Lower internal taxes are also needed to stimulate domestic innovation and competition. This would be a new paradigm that would help all classes of Americans.

In the past unions may have had too much power and the above-equilibrium wages they negotiated may have stifled economic growth and induced cost-push inflation, especially in the 1970s. But of course, conditions change, and today they are a bulwark for middle America against global competition and its concomitant stagnation in real wages. Most union members are not radical leftists, many are culturally conservative and very patriotic and are ready to be brought in to the Republican fold again. They may be less in number than thirty years ago of course, but are still a significant force that can turn states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio to one party or the other.

But the Republican establishment has ignored their needs and concerns and this has been especially apparent since 1992. And unfortunately, many of these same union members have experienced management that sought better returns through outsourcing. And, for many of them, the only institution that sticks up for middle America against globalization and their decline in wages is their union.  So is it any wonder that many of them vote for the party their union leaders endorse?

So just how does the GOP expect to win near-term elections without their support? Right now, the party needs a serious victory. And it is staring them in the face. President Obama has handed the GOP a golden opportunity for a decisive victory with his open border policy and his support of the Trans Pacific Partnership – both policies that negatively affect real wages in the short to medium term and are anathema to union workers.

Only Donald Trump has campaigned seriously against these and is seen as a champion of American workers and it is for this reason that he is poised to carry a significant portion of the union vote. The rest of the field as well as most of Congress is caught up in the tractor beam of neo-conservative economic orthodoxy. If someone other than Trump wins the nomination and if such a nominee continues with the same hostility towards unions, it will be a mighty struggle to win the Rust Belt and with it the Presidency.

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  1. Does anybody really think that if conservatives play nicey-nice to unions, the unions will come around and endorse them? That’s magical thinking. Unions have had a long and cozy relationship with leftists, and they’re not about to change anytime soon.
    “Can a leopard change its spots, or the Ethiopian the color of his skin?”

  2. The difference between Ford and unions is the difference between capitalism and socialism, between liberty and compulsion (extortion).
    Were workers to unionize when wide-spread problems arise, in order to right an injustice, and then to disband, I would be optimistic. But to have standing unions that have liberal, socialist ideology ingrained in their structure and practice–as they are now–to think that they could ever support conservative positions is a pipe dream.
    When conservative union members have to take Democratic ballots in primaries out of fear of losing favor in their unions (I know of 2 such union members), there are deep-seated problems in the unions themselves that cannot be resolved by Republicans pandering to them.

  3. There is a big difference between opposing the coercive policies of many union leaders and being seen as hostile to the rank and file members of a union. Reagan appealed to the values of many rank and file members and other conservatives can also if they make the effort to reach out to the members on an individual basis. The Supreme Court is considering a case about the permissible use of compulsory union dues that could bring major changes to labor law. The power of blue-collar union workers is declining as white-collar government unions come to dominate the membership of the AFL-CIO. This change also opens an opportunity for conservatives to search for possible allies among auto workers, metal workers, coal miners, electrical workers, and teamsters.

  4. The public sector unions are destroying America especially in Illinois with the unsustainable pension scam. The tax payers are victims of these unions especially the teachers union which will strike at a drop of the hat for more money with little concern for the parents or the kids.