04 March 2011

Americans strongly support public-sector unions

While various governors and legislators of various American states exploit state budget deficits to do some union-busting, Americans at large remain staunchly supportive of public-sector unions. According to a New York Times/CBS News poll, most Americans not only oppose efforts to weaken the collective bargaining rights of public-sector unions but also oppose cutting the pay or benefits of public workers to reduce state budget deficits.

The support is  convincing. Respondents opposed weakening public-sector union rights by a margin of almost two to one (60 per cent to 33 per cent). Even among Republicans the margin was nearly 50-50. Opposition to cutting the pay or benefits of civil servants to reduce deficits was also strongly opposed—by a margin of 56 per cent to 37 per cent. Sixty-one percent of those polled, including just over half of Republicans, thought the salaries and benefits of most public employees was either “about right” or “too low,” directly contradicting those politicians who have been making the case that public-service workers are overpaid or have overly generous benefits. The disagreement extended to dealing with budget deficits: raising taxes was twice as popular as benefit cuts for state workers.

This strong support by the American people for both civil servants and unions is encouraging. Aside from worker co-operatives, unions are the sole component of democracy in the workplace. If we are to have a democratic society, self-governance must inform all public institutions, not just government, and to many citizens, the most important institution is their workplace. Americans likely support public-sector unions for various reasons—fair play, respect for the work they do, etc.—but one hopes also because they support democracy.

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