Everyone should know by now that the American super rich have been gobbling up a larger and larger piece of the American pie since around 1980, as shown by the first chart above. One of the ways they've been able to do this is by crushing the labor movement in the private sector, as shown in the second chart. Power has been consolidated in the hands of upper management, and wealth has been consolidated in the bank accounts of the richest of the rich.
But the logic of modern hypercapitalism is that enough is never enough. So now the right wing--the corporate elite, their puppet Republican Party, and their duped working class foot soldiers who make up the Tea Party--have set their sights on one of the last vestiges of organization and power left in the working class: public employee unions.
This has nothing to do with budget deficits. That's just the PR strategy from the right. In Wisconsin, the forefront of the battle right now, the unions have agreed to all of the financial cuts that the Republican governor has asked for. But he's not to content simply to strip away union benefits. He wants to dismantle the unions themselves.
Public employee unions are the obvious and logical next target for the right wing and the so-called conservative movement. Union density is still fairly high (36%) in the public sector. That's roughly the union density we had in the private sector in the 1950s when America was a much more middle-class nation. By crushing public employee unions, the right wing crushes one of the last pillars of the once great American middle class and they get an even bigger piece of the pie of our national wealth. The fat cats are never full.
La Femme Follette had an excellent post a couple of days ago that lamented how even many seemingly progressive "hipsters" view unions as "a quaint...relic whose time has passed." If the right wing is able to destroy public employee unions the way they have private sector unions, that's how we'll be describing the middle class pretty soon.
The glimmer of hope I see in all of this is the militant response by the labor movement--public and private sectors--in Wisconsin and the solidarity rallies all across the country this past week. Here, locally in DC, I can tell you that the assault on Wisconsin unions has ignited a broad coalition of progressive groups centered around the labor movement. Even though I believe the right has been planning this assault on public employee unions for a long time now (more on that later), I still believe they've been surprised by the forceful reaction from the left. But rallies and marches are one thing, organizing the unorganized is another. What we saw in the auto industry of the 1930s with the great sit-down strikes, we need to see today in the retail and fast-food industries. Bosses everywhere need to fear that their workers are talking about a union. That is where the progressive/labor movement can actually begin to turn the tide and once again build power and economic justice for working people.