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Working In These Times

Friday, Mar 18, 2011, 11:27 am

David Moberg on the State of the Unions—in Wisconsin, Chicago and Beyond (VIDEO)

BY Jeremy Gantz

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2011 has barely begun, but it's already been a particularly bad year for organized labor in America, as newly-elected GOP governors argue that collective bargaining rights must be curtailed to cope with states' fiscal crises.

On Thursday, In These Times Senior Editor David Moberg appeared on Chicago Newsroom (broadcast by Chicago Area Network TV) to discuss the multi-front fight by unionists to defend the status quo. The show's host, Ken Davis—former program director of WBEZ (Chicago public) radio—decided to gather a "brain trust" to understand exactly why public-sector workers have been recast as greedy and overprotected unionists unwilling to sacrifice for the good of the country.

"Part of the problem is that people aren't willing to face up to what they need from the public sector," says Moberg. "Their lives would be much worse without the public sector... a lot appreciate the things that are done, from police to firefighters to people who handle drivers licenses. ...But it's something that they don't expect to pay for."

The problem, argues Moberg (who has covered the labor movement for the magazine since its founding in 1976) is that "the vast majority" of all of the new income generated during the last few decades has been at the top, and America's tax system "doesn't capture where the money is" to keep government working.

Moberg was joined by NPR reporter David Schaper and Bob Bruno, Professor, School of Labor Employment Relations at the University of Illinois.

The conversation focuses in part on Chicago, a city facing a serious budget shortfall. Many of the city's biggest unions didn't endorse Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel, who has said that major budget cuts will be necessary. Davis asks: Will the former White House chief of staff become Chicago's Scott Walker?

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Jeremy Gantz is a contributing editor at the magazine. He is the editor of The Age of Inequality: Corporate America's War on Working People (2017, Verso), and was the Web/Associate Editor of In These Times from 2008 to 2012. A graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, he worked as a reporter for The Cambodia Daily in 2007. After graduating from Carleton College in 2004, he lived in Sri Lanka on a Fulbright scholarship, studying the intersection of ethnic politics and public education. His articles have also appeared in Chicago-area newspapers, Alternet and the Onion’s A.V. Club.

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