Rhetoric emanating from the public employee unions and their political allies over in Madison recently has been hard to decipher. They are, of course, upset with the efforts of Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s Republican governor, to rein in their power and pay by asking them to cough up half the cost of their pensions, 5.8% of pay, typically, and 12% of their health care premiums. In addition, their collective bargaining powers would be sharply curtailed.
Assembly minority leader Peter Barca shouted, “Our democracy is out of control,” before one key vote, while demonstrators shouted, “Shame, shame, shame!” Opponents of the legislation called it an assault on the middle class, political thuggery, and a theft of democracy from “the people.”
In fact, the shrillest of this chorus was occasioned by a parliamentary maneuver which facilitated a vote in the Wisconsin Senate that had been prevented by the Democratic senators’ bolting the state and hiding out in Illinois. These senators found themselves in a small minority because Wisconsin voters, fed up with out-of-control government spending, borrowing, and debt, had swept the Republicans into power with a mandate to change all that. Not having the votes to prevent it, the Democratic senators shut down state government by running off and hiding.
So who here is thwarting democracy and muzzling the voice of the people, and who should be ashamed? And since when was the middle class composed of or even led by public employee unions, at least until that point at which their demands have reduced the rest of us who must foot the bill, to penury.
Meanwhile, the true instance of political thuggery was performed by union teachers who walked off the job to descend upon Madison in shrieking protest, leaving countless parents with kids out on the street. It should be noted that these parents had no option to walk off their jobs without being held accountable. Perhaps they should get a better union. Who is the middle class here, and who is being attacked?
One wonders even, if public union solidarity with organized labor in the private sector goes beyond the bosses. There, union demands are tempered by the harsh realities of the marketplace. If management can’t make a profit, no one has a job anymore. Labor, like management, must compete, and competition imposes a sure sense of reality. Private sector labor unions that consistently make unreasonable demands either get tossed out or run their industries out of business.
Government, on the other hand, is a monopoly not required to make a profit nor even operate in any sensible, practical, or economic fashion. Allowing it to unionize and control crucial functions within a society is what truly destroys democracy in a way that our founders could never have imagined.
Until relatively recently, this was universally understood and accepted. I am among many in commenting on this situation. To quote President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the great New Dealer: “It is impossible to collectively bargain with the government.” No one, to my knowledge, has cited AFL-CIO president George Meany’s reaction to the news that John Kennedy, in order to insure the political support of public school teachers, had promised them the right to organize and bargain collectively.
“Is he nuts?” asked Meany.