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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Wisconsin’s Feud with Public Unions: A Dangerous War on Statism

Folks on the left don’t handle their cage being rattled very well. However, threats to the largest collusion in America – an alliance between government and labor unions are an act of war. The gloves come off, and things get very ugly.

Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) points out that Stalin, Mubarak and Hitler all opposed independent labor unions. His “mini-rant” basically imposes the idea that if one is opposed to collective bargaining rights, then they espouse the ideology of the aforementioned tyrannical leaders. After all, opposing people’s rights to collectively bargain is a major assault on freedom!

On the surface, if one opposes people’s right to collectively bargain and believes the government should impose such a restriction, then Senator Brown is not off the mark with his assertion. Granting the government this type of power would indeed be very anti-libertarian and anti-freedom. Unfortunately for Senator Brown, his assessment of the reality of the situation is far off the mark.

Leftists really should proceed with caution when they invoke historical elements into their arguments, as they almost always backfire. The ease of access to information allows people to debunk the rewriting of history much faster. Therefore, let us journey back in time to Adolph Hitler’s very own Mein Kampf. While it is true that Hitler abolished trade unions, we must first understand his ulterior motive before we run with an empty talking point. Hitler wasn’t anti-union. He was simply against any union that wasn’t the National Socialist Union. “A National Socialist union side by side with other unions is senseless. For it, too, must feel itself permeated by its philosophical task and the resultant obligation to be intolerant of other similar, let alone hostile, formations and to emphasize the exclusive necessity of its own ego. Here, too, there is no understanding and no compromise with related efforts, but only the maintenance of our absolute sole right.” The same is true for Stalin’s ‘Union’ of Soviet Socialist Republics! As long as said unions supported the state, they were just fine.

Before we return to the present time, let us visit the viewpoint of one more famous person in history – Franklin Delano Roosevelt – arguably the founding father of modern-day socialism in America. Surely, he can substantiate Senator Brown’s claim. Unfortunately, for the Senator, FDR’s position makes Brown’s ignorance gleam. President Roosevelt actually opposed public sector unions.

An excerpt from his letter to Luther C. Steward, President of the National Federation of Federal Employees, written on August 16, 1937 states:

"All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters.

Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of Government employees. Upon employees in the Federal service rests the obligation to serve the whole people, whose interests and welfare require orderliness and continuity in the conduct of Government activities. This obligation is paramount. Since their own services have to do with the functioning of the Government, a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable. It is, therefore, with a feeling of gratification that I have noted in the constitution of the National Federation of Federal Employees the provision that "under no circumstances shall this Federation engage in or support strikes against the United States Government."
(The entire letter can be viewed here.)

The parallel is very obvious, so let’s tie it into the current situation. It has been established that ruthless dictators only support unions that support their cause – the state. FDR was certainly not anti-union; however he opposed any union that threatened the functionality of the government.

Things have changed quite a bit since the days of FDR. Unions have lost a vast amount of power in the private sector. Membership has steadily declined over the years and continues to slide down to a mere 11.9 percent. Conversely, union membership has a significant upward trend in the public sector as many state and local government jobs are unionized. In 2010, the union membership rate for public sector workers stood at 36.2 percent.(1)

Rather than public sector unions being at odds with government, as FDR feared, they joined forces instead. It is comical to read the rants of angry leftists blogging about anything from the Koch brothers’ influence to the accusations of war on the middle class. One would think with all of this concern about collusion and influence, we would discuss the biggest one of them all – the alliance between labor unions and members of Congress!

This is a website everyone should bookmark, as it tracks donations made to political candidates as well as Congressional lobbying. Interestingly enough, we find that SEVEN out of TEN of the organizations that have the deepest pockets are labor unions or organizations that act in the interest of labor unions. ActBlue is the number one seed with over $51 million in contributions. This organization is essentially the online clearing house for the Democratic Party as it has funneled over $134 million through mid-2010 to existing and potential candidates for the Democrat Party. The original page does not reflect donations below the $200,000 mark, which is why total contributions are substantially higher. Ironically, the non-union “heavy hitters” are organizations for realtors, lawyers and the firm Goldman Sachs – none of whom had anything to do with the latest market bubble that burst!

Ten of the top 15 all time donors contribute solidly to the Democratic Party. FDR need not turn in his grave, as the alliance to the state is stronger than ever. (2) What was that about Hitler and Stalin again?

Now that we have corrected the record on history, Sherrod Brown and demonstrated the glaring statism that exists between unions and the government; we can now articulate the differences between interfering with worker’s rights to organize, the difference between public and private sector unions as well as the role of collusion between labor unions and the government that effectively expands the voting bloc of the Democratic Party along with the welfare state.

No true believer in the ideology of a free market would ever impose a restriction on workers’ rights to organize and collectively bargain with organizations in the PRIVATE sector. A move that prohibits workers’ rights would be just as statist as the current collusion between “big labor” and government. The key is for workers and employers to have to ability to negotiate freely without influence from any political party. The problem with today’s labor unions is they are aligned with the Democratic Party, which is ANTI-freedom in the sense where workers’ union dues go primarily to fund the campaigns of politicians.

One may ask how there could be public support for Wisconsin Governor, Scott Brown if part of economic freedom is allowing workers the right to organize. The difference is simply the public sector versus the private sector. In the public sector, public sector employees are compensated via taxpayer dollars. If there is a budget shortfall in meeting workers’ compensation obligations, government has the power to raise taxes to meet these obligations – hence the redistribution of wealth. If unions negotiate with private sector businesses, and the company agrees to meet the union’s demand for higher pay; then the people have the FREEDOM to pass on a product that is too expensive due to the passed on cost of expensive labor. People don’t have the option to pass on paying their taxes. Higher taxes lead to private sector workers’ compensation and benefits being severely reduced. For instance, how many workers in the private sector enjoy a 100 percent employer contribution to their healthcare? In addition, “pension” seems to be a foreign word in the private sector. It is safe to say that workers in the private sector contribute a minimum of 15 percent of their salaries towards their healthcare and retirement.

The argument has been made by some on the left that public sector workers are not rich, and their wages are not substantially higher than workers in the private sector. This is incredibly disingenuous in the sense that wages are only PART of a worker’s total compensation. The issue is not wages is much as it is BENEFITS. Illinois just invoked one of the largest tax hikes in history in order to meet state worker’s pension obligations. Workers in the private sector saw their pensions shrink, and younger workers were not even eligible; yet, no one threatened to burn down the state capitol. Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey recently asked state workers to contribute a measly one and a half percent to their OWN retirement plan to avert a tax increase, and he receives death threats.

There is no reason why public sector workers cannot be fairly compensated for the work they perform. However, this cannot come at the expense of others, nor can it be a motive to expand the voting bloc of the Democratic Party or be in the form of welfare. It is indeed welfare for workers to receive wages and/or benefits that are higher than what the free market is willing to pay. People then become trapped in the job and married to the union, as they cannot find alternate positions that will compensate them in the same manner. Therefore, there is no incentive for people to better their skills. Is this really the precedent we wish to set for our police officers, firefighters and teachers? Those jobs are sort of important, which also nullifies the notion that these workers would work for pennies on the dollar if labor unions did not exist. How are these positions any different than other skilled positions? The truth is employers would like a worker to work for free. People are compensated because their skills add value to the organization which makes it necessary for an organization to properly compensate said worker. The worker then has the power to take their skills to the highest bidder.

America is at a crossroads, and the cleaning of its fiscal house will not begin at the top…surprise, surprise! Rather it will begin at the state and local level. It is my hope that Governors like Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Chris Christie of New Jersey and John Kasich of Ohio remain strong in a war more difficult than any overseas. It’s not easy to unravel the most powerful political machine in America, as their pockets are deep; and they have the power of the media to fill the airwaves up with nonsensical propaganda.

We’ll need more governors to fight the good fight because someone needs to find the political courage to tell public sector workers the very harsh truth that has been hidden for decades.