Andrew Sullivan has two more posts up on Wisconsin, and both are remarkably even-keeled. In the first, he looks at Walker’s campaign promises and notes that Walker did campaign on cutting public sector wages and benefits:
But not end their collective bargaining rights on everything but wages. There’s no reference to any such bid in the final gubernatorial debate. Here’s another substantive piece on Walker’s positions on public sector unions from before the election. Again no mention of collective bargaining. The same can be said about his State of the State address on February 1.
I disagree with Andrew’s take on public sector unions in general, but he’s right about this:
If you campaign on one platform and then suddenly up the ante, you cannot cite democracy in your defense. And there is something bizarre about Republican commentators who cheered on Tea Party protests against a clear Obama campaign pledge – health insurance reform – suddenly decrying public protests against something a politician didn’t campaign on.
Without solicitation of bids? How is that frugal? How is that conservative? It couldn’t be anything to do with the Koch brothers, could it? And wouldn’t it be more fiscally conservative not to simultaneously add over $150 million by rescinding tax hikes on those couples earning over $300,000 or individuals earning $150,000 at the same time as asking for sacrifices from people earning a fraction of that?
It’s not the cutting of public sector benefits that concerns me. I think the budget situation demands such cuts, and Walker deserves credit for saying so and following through. It’s the combination of no bid sales to corporations, exemptions for public sector unions like cops and firefighters who backed his election, and simultaneous tax cuts for the successful – in the context of asking for general sacrifice.
As I’ve noted previously, the Wisconsin public unions aren’t actually that well-compensated – their average pension is just $24,500 – and they have already told Walker they’d take hits. So the notion of shared sacrifice is not the issue here – at least for the unions or the Democrats. Walker is obviously interested only in busting up the unions and outsourcing public services to his wealthy supporters. This is not about the deficit it’s about conflicting visions of what the American dream means. There is a fundamental disconnect over notions of liberty and fairness in America. And this is where we get into Big Picture territory, which I think Andrew is still missing. Do we want a ‘right to work’ for whatever big business dictates, or a ‘right to work with dignity’? Because that’s what’s being stripped from the American worker more than anything else. With every new round of layoffs and outsourcing, the dignity of the American worker is diminished.
Paul Krugman has a good column up on the Wisconsin fight:
Why bust the unions? As I said, it has nothing to do with helping Wisconsin deal with its current fiscal crisis. Nor is it likely to help the state’s budget prospects even in the long run: contrary to what you may have heard, public-sector workers in Wisconsin and elsewhere are paid somewhat less than private-sector workers with comparable qualifications, so there’s not much room for further pay squeezes.
So it’s not about the budget; it’s about the power.
In principle, every American citizen has an equal say in our political process. In practice, of course, some of us are more equal than others. Billionaires can field armies of lobbyists; they can finance think tanks that put the desired spin on policy issues; they can funnel cash to politicians with sympathetic views (as the Koch brothers did in the case of Mr. Walker). On paper, we’re a one-person-one-vote nation; in reality, we’re more than a bit of an oligarchy, in which a handful of wealthy people dominate.
Given this reality, it’s important to have institutions that can act as counterweights to the power of big money. And unions are among the most important of these institutions.
Ezra Klein explains why public and private unions – contra Joe Klein, Andrew, et alia – are very much the same thing with very similar incentives and costs. And he’s right. There is nothing different about the two. One negotiates with private employers, one negotiates with public employers. Public sector unions do not bargain ‘against the taxpayer’ any more than private sector unions bargain against the consumer. Yes, they can have influence over who is elected, but given what just happened in Wisconsin, is that really a bad thing? Somebody needs to present a countervailing force to the super-rich in this country. And all institutions have problems, unions included. Corporations included. Governments included. That’s why power requires checks and balances. Knocking out the unions also removes a check to power. The result is more and more wealth and political clout in the hands of the very few, and less and less political and economic power in the hands of the rest of us.
Kevin Drum has a really excellent article in Mother Jones on the decline of the unions and the middle class in America – and the failure of the Democratic Party to present a pro-labor alternative to the Republicans. The rise of the New Left in the 60’s and then neoliberalism in the post-Reagan era spelled the end for party-wide support of organized labor – as well as a decline in intellectual and media support for unions. Part of this was the fault of the labor unions themselves when they supported Nixon and abandoned McGovern, and certainly there have been plenty of bad union bosses and corruption (something that, again, has plagued just about every big organization in history). But much of this is the concerted effort of big business and the politicians who support big business taking on unions at the state and federal level for the past three decades. With labor in decline, the Democrats have turned increasingly to the deep pockets of big business and big finance, advocating less and less for the working class. It’s time to change that.