Three Decades of Union-Busting

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.

In the second, he tackles the no-bid contracts and privatization scheme in Walker’s proposed budget, noting:

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.

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Yes, cutting spending will hurt people

Ezra Klein sums up the anti-union proposal put forth by Wisconsin’s Governor:

The best way to understand Walker’s proposal is as a multi-part attack on the state’s labor unions. In part one, their ability to bargain benefits for their members is reduced. In part two, their ability to collect dues, and thus spend money organizing members or lobbying the legislature, is undercut. And in part three, workers have to vote the union back into existence every single year. Put it all together and it looks like this: Wisconsin’s unions can’t deliver value to their members, they’re deprived of the resources to change the rules so they can start delivering value to their members again, and because of that, their members eventually give in to employer pressure and shut the union down in one of the annual certification elections.

Of course, the whole crisis is manufactured to begin with. Walker created the deficit through tax cuts and new spending, and is using it as an excuse to go after the unions. Get ready for more of the same across the country. Walker also wants to get control of Medicaid for reasons that should not be too hard to surmise.

Meanwhile Andrew Sullivan continues to distance himself from Obama and the left he so unabashedly embraced during Obama’s first two years by calling the Democratic senators who strategically fled Wisconsin “pathetic”; by complaining that the president is “AWOL” on the question of deficits; and by sarcastically responding to this excellent piece by Freddie deBoer on the very real human cost of spending cuts with a post titled “But Cutting Spending Will Hurt People!

It’s a rare talent that allows a pundit to mock and deride both the poor and the blogger they’re responding to all in just the title of a post, but Sullivan manages. He then outsources his response to McArdle who commences in arguing for cuts in pensions and healthcare services because she doesn’t want to see cuts in pensions and healthcare services. The “math demands it” according to Sullivan, even though the average Wisconsin public employee pension is only $24,500 much of which the workers themselves contribute; even though Social Security is not going to sink us no matter the false assertions of pundits and politicians; even though healthcare is the real issue and even though Obama tackled that issue first, expending almost all his political capital on it in his first year in office to however imperfectly enact reform.

I do not think that word means what you think it means.

Fiscal conservatism used to be about balancing the budget and running a tight ship. Now it’s about keeping taxes low no matter what. But this is well-trod ground. What’s bothered me lately is that I just don’t really understand why fiscal conservatism is so trendy now in the first place. For instance, here’s Andrew Sullivan complaining that Obama is not enough of a deficit hawk:

To coin a phrase, how long, O Lord, how long? We have a divided government, we just had an election in which one side campaigned on too much spending, we have a very pragmatic president able to explain the dangers we face, and a debt that grows every day. But nooo. Let’s get the GOP to lead.

And let’s not fool ourselves. The president has just asked the opposition to do his work for him. He should be careful what he asks for. If the GOP actually proposes cuts in Medicare, real tax reform, and some of the proposals in the Bowles-Simpson report, there will be many independents and fiscal conservatives who will take a second look.

What’s troubling to me about this is that I’m not sure Sullivan has made much of a case for entitlement reform or fiscal conservatism to begin with. It all feels very much like intuition. In fact, I’m not sure anyone claiming to be a fiscal conservative has made that case. The notion that we need to balance the budget and pay down the debt right now is just taken for granted with no real attempt to explain why.

Is inflation out of control? No, not even close. Are our creditors closing our accounts? No, because our creditors know that all we need to do to pay them off is raise taxes or get out of this recession. When growth picks back up deficits will shrink. The deficit is not a problem in the first place. The whole thing is just a ruse.

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