It didn’t take long for the meme that the government-versus-unions showdown in Wisconsin isn’t about the budget to make it from Ezra Klein’s blog to the rest of the liberal blogosphere. Maybe the JournoList lives after all.
But in a sense, our friends on the left may be correct. For people outside Wisconsin, this story is not about whether Gov. Scott Walker has to make public employees contribute X dollars more to their pensions or Y percent of their health insurance in order to close a deficit of Z dollars in 2012-13.
It’s about whether public-sector labor unions — and the disproportionate power they wield over the elected officials who are supposed to be their bosses — are an antidemocratic anachronism.
Actually, “anachronism” implies that they were appropriate at one time. No less of a progressive icon than Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared it “unthinkable and intolerable” to have government-worker unions which could strike against the taxpayers who fund their livelihoods — and whom the public employees are supposed to serve. It’s not clear to me that the case was ever really different after FDR’s time.
It’s one thing if auto workers go on strike and the assembly line shuts down for a time. It’s quite another when tenured teachers go on strike and the schools have to shut down for days at a time to accommodate them.
As James Sherk of the Heritage Foundation put it in a commentary on the New York Times’ website, “The founders of the labor movement viewed unions as a vehicle to get workers more of the profits they help create. Government workers, however, don’t generate profits. They merely negotiate for more tax money.”
Among many of the Americans who work in the private sector, the specter of teachers and other public workers going on strike only reinforces the idea that they fit squarely in a “ruling class” that includes politicians, lobbyists and other rent-seekers but excludes the average American.
This is why those who speak about an American plutocracy, essentially a combination of elected officials and the special interests who buy them off to get what they want outside what we consider the democratic process, are looking at the problem too narrowly. Most people probably wouldn’t label school teachers and bureaucrats as “plutocrats.” But what else can we say about those public employees who are refusing to perform essential services — on which government has a monopoly or near-monopoly in most cases — in order to subvert the mandate of the electorate, if not that they are undermining the democratic process?
They, and their Democratic allies in Wisconsin’s Senate, are using leverage that no other group of citizens has in pushing elected officials to bend to their wishes. That’s why all their talk about standing up for democracy rings so hollow.
And that’s why the left is partially correct: This is not only about Wisconsin’s budget.
– By Kyle Wingfield
Find me on Facebook