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Indiana, Meet Wisconsin

Earlier this month, reports that Indiana was gearing up for a fight between conservative politicians and organized labors brought echoes of Scott Walker’s Wisconsin to mind. The comparison has just become even more apt—the New York Times reports that Democrats opposing the right-to-work bill have decided to defeat it the only way they can—by refusing to show up for the vote.

Since the measure is all-but guaranteed to pass in a vote, Indiana’s Democrats, like those of Wisconsin before them, have to fall back on stalling tactics like this, although they have not yet seen fit to flee the state.

Labor’s fundamental problems, however, aren’t political.  They are economic.  In the private sector, labor unions can’t protect workers against automation or against foreign competition and over time workers have gradually drifted away from the labor movement.  In the public sector, until very recently the economic issues weren’t real and organized labor was able to push for higher wages, more job security and better fringe benefits.

Now more and more states have hit a financial wall, and even many Democratic cities and states are pushing back against labor demands.  When there isn’t any money, the union can’t get you more. Should public sector unions lose the ability to bring workers the benefits and pay increases they (very naturally and understandably want), the public sector union movement will face the generational decline that private sector unions now see.

For fifty years labor has been wielding its political clout in Washington and the states, and for fifty years the percentage of workers in unions has been falling. In the last few years the center of gravity in the labor movement and the center of the economic crisis has shifted from the private to the public sector. Otherwise, nothing much has changed.

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  • Chase Crucil

    Unionization, however, might be appropriate in the service sector, where wages and benefits are notoriously low. Employees at McDonald’s, for example, might be able to use collective bargaining to acquire better wages and benefits. What do you think of this?

  • Mark Michael

    National Review Online (NRO) posted about a recent poll in Wisconsin on Gov. Scott Walker:

    It shows that 51% approve of Walker’s performance and 46% disapprove. It was taken Jan 19 – 22. In 2011, Walker had higher disapproval numbers than approval. The Democrats submitted a petition to have a recall election for Walker with over 1 million signatures this month. But it appears that the average voter is moving away from supporting his repeal. More and more local news stories report on savings in local governments, thanks to Walker’s Budget Repair Bill.

    Walker leads the potential D rivals to replace him as governor in this recent poll. I suspect his polls will improve as the year goes along.

    Recall all of the public worker demos in Madison during the time Walker’s Budget Repair Bill was passed and then the months following that. But it looks like it may be for naught.

    Indiana will be the 23rd Right-to-Work state if that law passes the legislature and Daniels signs it. Daniels had issued an executive order in his first term ending collective bargaining by state workers, achieving what Walker struggled so hard to get, with little trouble.

    In neighboring Ohio (my state), Senate Bill 5, which tried to do similar things to what Wisconsin and Indiana are doing, was roundly defeated via ballot last November, 62-38. Ohio R’s are licking their wounds this year, and will probably not attempt to reign in public worker pay, at least at the state level. City and county governments are having to cut costs on their own however they can.

    Indiana and Ohio are often competing for jobs, trying to lure companies to set up shop in state. For example, Honda put its last assembly plant in Indiana at Greensburg two years ago; they just added 1,000 workers at that plant. Honda has just announced they plan to build a revived Acura sports car in Ohio. It is being designed at their Raymond, OH, design plant; that facility employs over a 1,000 design staff. Honda is nonunion. They have 13,000 employees in Ohio at (I think) 8 plants.

  • Kenny

    “City and county governments [in Ohio] are having to cut costs on their own however they can.”

    This is mainly by laying off of the self-anointed ‘everyday heros’ on the government dole.

  • LarryD

    #1 A Union cannot obtain higher wages and benefits than the jobs value will support. This is what has fundamentally tripped up unionism, eventually they price their members out of the market.

  • Mark Michael

    Another point on Ohio: various Tea Parties are gathering up signatures to put a right-to-work issue on the ballot. Whether they succeed in getting enough signatures for the 2012 elections is problematic. I suspect the professional R politicians hope they do not, after the drubbing they took at the ballot box last November on Senate Bill 5. But with Indiana likely passing their right-to-work bill shortly, perhaps if the Tea Parties do get it on the ballot, the voters might very well pass it. Who knows. Don’t want to lose businesses to neighboring Indiana.

  • Kenny
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