The Leftover Left and Big Labor
A long-time reader who lives in Honolulu alerted this observer to the looming prospect of riots at the annual conference of the Asian Development Bank (ADB). His concern stemmed from earlier riots that played havoc with the World Trade Conference in Seattle.
The Seattle riots were carefully prepared and orchestrated by the opponents of world trade. The mayor and the police didn’t have a clue. But the Honolulu authorities were well prepared to deal with the planned disruption of the ADB Conference. The demonstrators got to demonstrate. The bankers were able to hold their conference.
But just who is leading the opposition to world trade? The leadership comes from anti-establishment, anti-U.S. radicals from the 1960s called: The Leftover Left. These folks would rather read Marx and Lenin than Adam Smith and Milton Friedman. The other part of the anti-world trade movement is what remains of Big Labor in America.
Why would the hitherto flag-waving, patriotic, anti-Communist, rank-and-file union workers make common cause with those whose ultimate agenda is the destruction of the United States as a world power? Because the rank-and-file have been duped and because their leadership has been seduced.
Ever since the end of World War II our trade union movement has lost membership. Mainly, because Big Government has increasingly stepped into the shoes of Big Labor.
Today, a host of government programs dealing with retirement, health care, working hours and working conditions are meeting the traditional demands of Big Labor. If the government is already delivering what the union leadership only promises, why pay union dues so a bunch of union officials can live the high life at the workers’ expense? Moreover, many folks have lost count of how many union officials are serving time for corruption and mob-related crimes.
In a desperate attempt to appear relevant, some union leaders are willing to grab a life ring thrown to them by the radical, Leftover Left rather than sink into oblivion. We saw that in the Seattle riots, we saw it at the World Economic Summit in Montreal and this same odd-couple marriage was seen marching down the streets of Honolulu protesting the meeting of the Asian Development Bank.
Big Labor is trying to teach its rank-and-file that world trade is a bad thing. Union leaders cite the fact that millions of jobs hitherto performed in the U.S. are now being done by lower-paid workers in foreign countries. In a free market, that is what happens. Jobs, like water, seek the lowest wage level at which the work can be done in an acceptable manner.
Orientals in particular have proven to be very adept at the assembly of a wide variety of products ranging from clothing to computer chips. Virtually everything in the computer and electronics industries is being assembled in the Orient. The non-union aircraft avionics industry remains the only high-tech field where the U.S. is preeminent.
Not for a minute would this observer suggest a lesser standard of living for the American worker. But a combination of higher wages and all those government and union induced benefits continue to price the American worker out of certain job markets.
This creates a situation in which the American worker must find ways to increase his or her value in the labor marketplace. New, higher skills – presumably beyond the ken of those outside the U.S. -- must be mastered. Failure to retrain for higher and more complex work will bring many workers to the end of the employment road.
In their completely understandable desperation, some workers heed the siren song of the Leftover Left and its desire to bring the entire capitalist system to a screeching halt. Seattle, Montreal, Honolulu are just the tip of an iceberg of labor unrest that could have titanic consequences.
America must create higher-skill jobs and Labor must produce higher-skill workers. Otherwise, the Leftover Left will keep Big Labor on its payroll, not ours.
William Hamilton is a nationally syndicated columnist and a featured commentator for USA Today.
©2001. William Hamilton.