Tuesday, June 22, 2010

EDITORIAL>>Tim Griffin and unions

Tim Griffin never encouraged anyone to invest much confidence in his character — he let his ambition to undercut and replace his old friend and boss, Bud Cummins, corrupt the entire United States Department of Justice — but you could not doubt his political savvy. He had spent all those years toiling at the Republican national headquarters in Washington and then in the political operations of the White House so he would never say anything politically foolish, at least unless he were under duress.

Now we are not so sure. Friday, in his first big public outing since winning the Republican nomination for Congress from the Second District, Griffin was telling the Political Animals Club at Little Rock about why it was important to keep labor unions weak in Arkansas. He is against the so-called “card-check” bill, which would require big employers to bargain with a union if most of their employees signed cards expressing their desire to have the union bargain for them. The bill is dead, but it is a live political tar baby.

Griffin explained that since Arkansas laws restrict unions so much, they have remained weak and that has kept wages and salaries in Arkansas below the levels in other states. Low wages are desirable, he continued, because it makes Arkansas more attractive than other states to businesses.

The unstated message was that Tim Griffin, as a congressman or in some other capacity, would like to see worker incomes depressed because it is good for business and economic development. All that economic development produced by low wages eventually would raise all boats.

We are not sure that the lack of unions or strong ones is the reason that wages and per-capita incomes in Arkansas lag behind the rest of the country, as Griffin seems to believe and as union leaders also would have you believe. Arkansas was well behind the other states before the rise of unions in the industrial heartland and the big cities in the middle of the last century, and that has remained so with the decline of union membership and power since the 1970s.

If low wages and a union-poor environment were an inducement to development, Arkansas instead of California would have had Silicon Valley. Something else has been at work — geography and climate, maybe, education, social factors, political will? — and five generations of political leaders have not discovered the reason and the remedy.

But no one expected economic theory to be Tim Griffin’s forte. His career has been as a shrewd if cynical political operator.

But how smart is it for a candidate for public office to come out squarely for low pay? That will not go over well even with a chamber of commerce audience.

This fellow bears watching, closely. He could be our next congressman.