Waking to a snowstorm, I had Tillie and Jack Olsen on my mind as I read the blazing Middle East news over fresh-cooked oatmeal and tea, and then turned to the continuing stand-off over collective-bargaining in Wisconsin, where the fire was still verbal, no armaments. As if those pieces of news were not enough, the city section opened with news that identified the 146th person who died 100 years ago because doors were locked on their shirtwaist sweat-shop when there were no unions and nothing insuring the safety of buildings for workers.
One may muse about whether Republicans, in their zest for excising governmental powers, would remove laws that establish building safety codes. Certainly those practical rules seem a far cry from collective bargaining, the principal at stake in Wisconsin, and possibly in a dozen other states this year. And yet, as Paul Krugman indicates in his column today, they are closely aligned. Since wealth controls this country’s politics, now freshly untrammeled by the Supreme Court’s recent decision, only trade unions can collectively speak for the rest of us. Krugman points out that over the past 30 years we have “become more oligarchic and less democratic,” and he cites the decline of private-sector unions as one cause.
So here is the irony, here is what sent me to the computer this morning: Even as the Middle East blazes with fervor, even as young and old, female and male risk death for democracy, in Wisconsin a Republican governor would move democracy back a giant step, to the 1930s when masses, risking their lives, marched for the right to collective bargaining.