Wisconsin: The Hemlock Revolution
by Joe Klein
An election was held in Wisconsin last November. The Republicans won. In a democracy, there are consequences to elections and no one, not even the public employees unions, are exempt from that. There are no guarantees that labor contracts, including contracts governing the most basic rights of unions, can’t be renegotiated, or terminated for that matter. We hold elections to decide those basic parameters. And it seems to me that Governor Scott Walker’s basic requests are modest ones–asking public employees to contribute more to their pension and health care plans, though still far less than most private sector employees do. He is also trying to limit the unions’ abilities to negotiate work rules–and this is crucial when it comes to the more efficient operation of government in a difficult time.
Tyranny in Wisconsin
by Charles Lane @ the WaPo
No doubt Walker’s proposal is strong medicine. Under the legislation, which may pass as early as today, most public-employee unions would lose the right to bargain collectively over anything except limited wage increases. I suspect what union leaders hate most, though, is the provision that would guarantee the rank and file an annual vote — starting this April — on whether or not they still want union representation at all. This is rather more democracy and accountability than public-sector union leaders are accustomed to. It might make them think twice before blowing their members’ dues money on political campaigns like the not-so-successful one they waged against Walker last year.
Meyerson brands me a Scrooge (better than being an East German commie, I guess), but the reason I feel so strongly about this is precisely because the corrupt nexus between public sector unions and Democratic politicians is destroying the progressive values I cherish. The first of these is democracy, which suffers when union political consultants stifle internal party debate and control party nominating processes — or when bureaucrats and pols team up to seize control of government services from the voting public. The second is equality, which suffers when a privileged class of well-connected insiders use their clout to secure better benefits than everyone else — at the expense of everyone else. “Tax the rich!” the unions and their apologists cry. But you could confiscate the wealth of every hedge-fund manager in the country and still not have enough money to meet the unfunded liabilities with which public-sector unions have saddled the states and local government.
In my view, the voters get to pick their government every few years, and then that government gets to make policy until the next election, as free of special interest influence as possible. There is no eternal, Metternichian “balance of power.” Statutory arrangements can be changed after 50 years, if they’re no longer in the public interest. I realize it’s a bit idealistic, but we can aspire, can’t we?
In different ways, each of my colleagues wants to carve out a special exception to this rule for public employees who, they seem to believe, are entitled not only to their own individual votes in elections but also to permanent group leverage over the government payroll, the delivery of government services and the tax burden. Despite their obvious conflicts of interest, public sector unions should be able to wield this clout regardless of what the voters – “temporary majorities,” as E.J. refers to them – might say from time to time. Elections may come and go, Ezra implies, but “worker power” in the public sector must last forever. All hail the glorious blogger-proletarian alliance!
No, what the public sector unions really can’t abide is the legislation’s requirement that public employees vote every year on union representation, coupled with an end to the automatic dues check-off on state paychecks. For the first time in decades, these organizations would actually have to prove on a regular basis that they’re voluntary; and they would have to collect their own political war chests, instead of relying on the government to extract the cash for them.
In other words, it would make them play by more democratic rules. And that’s what they can’t stand.
Lane’s battle with his colleagues at the Post is especially impressive. Do read all four parts: