MacKay on the "Myth" of Union Clout

WRNI political analyst Scott MacKay has an interesting essay on the "myth" of union control of Rhode Island politics. He catalogues a series of defeats over the last couple of decades on everything from unemployment benefits for striking workers to the length of the gubernatorial term.

It is time again for the chorus of Republicans, talk radio shouters, a few business leaders and Governor Carcieri to trot out one of the biggest myths in Rhode Island politics: That labor unions control the state, especially the State House.

There was a time when that slogan contained a kernel of truth, but that was in 1969, not 2009. Facts are stubborn things. What they show is that for most of the past 25 years --especially in recent years--Rhode Island labor unions have been on the ropes.

Union membership, particularly in the private sector, is at an all-time low. In Rhode Island, where more than a third of workers were unionized in the middle of the twentieth century, less than 20 percent carry union cards today.

Since 1985, organized labor has given concessions and lost political battles more often than not. Our state was one of two in the nation that allowed strikers to receive unemployment benefits. That ended when Republican Edward DiPrete won the governorship in 1984 and the Assembly went along with the business community's campaign to end strikers benefits. The argument was that Rhode Island was a no-go zone for business. Those opposed to such benefits claimed repeal would open the flood gates for companies to move here in droves. But that never happened.

MacKay, a former political reporter for the ProJo, has turned into one of the governor's toughest critics in his new role as political analyst.

One of Governor Carcieri's major polity (sic) initiatives was to cut taxes for the wealthy. The governor said this would lead to business expansion in the state.  Now, we have one of the nation's highest unemployment rates, so obviously that hasn't happened. This is in sharp contrast to the governorship of Lincoln Almond, when the Providence Place Mall was built, and Fidelity Investments and F.M. Global expanded in the state. State income taxes were higher then than they are now.


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