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Taking root in Wisconsin, the union battles that are sweeping across the Midwest are about more than pay, benefits and collective bargaining. Attacks on the rights of workers are also an attack on America’s health.

Factors like income, education and employment are important influences on the health of populations. The distribution of these resources is largely shaped by those with greatest political power.

Whereas US Republicans first argued that limiting union strength was necessary to keep government costs low, it is now well-known that these assaults have nothing to do with budget deficits and everything to do with diminishing the power of workers to collectively bargain.

For the past three decades, the power of labour and the working class has been declining in America (which currently has the lowest union membership density and lowest collective agreement coverage of any other developed nation). The resulting shift in wealth has given corporations and wealthy individuals greater control over the government and the policies it chooses to (or not to) pursue.

Specific policies supported by those in power have meant increasing job losses in the public sector, growing job insecurity, a weakening of regulatory protections and reduced safety nets and benefits. These conditions in turn, have led to major increases in social inequality, poverty, income inequality and social fragmentation, all fundamental determinants of heath.

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