Noam Scheiber makes a good case for the importance of the Wisconsin governor’s race at the New Republic. But the most interesting thing comes in what Scheiber, perhaps inadvertently, admits. Referring to the limitations on public employee union bargaining imposed by Governor Scott Walker and the Republican legislature, Scheiber writes, “He’s effectively defunded a key Democratic constituency.”
Let’s unpack that. Where do public employee unions get their money? Directly from dues paid by public employees, who in turn get that money from taxpayers. Where does that money go? Politically, almost entirely to the Democratic Party, as Scheiber admits. Public employee unions, whatever else they do, are (in almost all cases) a mechanism for mandatory taxpayer financing of one political party. Scheiber’s complaint is that Wisconsin Republicans have cut the amount of such public financing.
As far as I’m concerned, public employee unions would be outlawed at ever level, from the local to the federal. You want to get together in group, fine. But you have no bargaining rights, no ability to force dues payroll deductions, and no official role to play in the hiring or firing process. That would fix it.
It wasn’t always this way, of course. The public sector union is relatively new on the scene:
Writing in today’s Wall Street Journal, Hillsdale
College history professor Paul Moreno traces the rise of
public-sector unions in America in the second half of the twentieth
century. As he explains, “before the 1950s, government-employee
unions were almost inconceivable.” Indeed, even prominent liberal
leaders like Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt spoke out
strongly against the idea. So what changed? Here’s Moreno:
Postwar prosperity and the great increase of public employment
revived the public union idea. By 1970, nearly 20% of American
workers worked for the government. (In 1900: 4%.) The American
Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees led the effort
to persuade a state to allow public-employee unionization, and
Afscme prevailed in Wisconsin in 1958. New York City and other
cities also permitted their workers to unionize.
President John F. Kennedy issued an executive order 60 years ago
that broke the dam. The order did not permit federal employees to
bargain over wages (these are still set by Congress), or to force
workers to join a union or to strike (no state or city allowed
that), but Kennedy’s directive did lead to unionization of the
federal workforce. And it gave great impetus to more liberal state
and local laws. Government-union membership rose tenfold in the
Note that JFK managed to accomplish all this with his “pen and his phone” and an executive order – no input from congress required. Stroke of a pen, law of the land, and all that. I point this out as a salutary reminder to those who think Presidential executive orders can’t really be dangerous or have lasting effects.
BTW, while public employee unions were surging, private sector unions were collapsing. Had the GOP merely fought the unionization of public employees, they could have relegated the Democrats to second class financial status over the long term. But they didn’t, of course. Just as they won’t oppose scamnesty for illegal aliens, so that fifty years from today, we’ll be looking at graphs chronicling the destruction of the Republican Party.
One more thing: The reason that Democrats fight so hard to keep public employees on the rolls, and create entirely new classes of public workers (TSA, etc.) is because that is their wallet, and they’ll do anything to protect it.