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Unions Take Stock of Losses

This has been one of the worst weeks in years for union power in America. Governor Scott Walker’s convincing victory has been the big story of the week, but voters in San Diego and San Jose also passed measures to curb the power and benefits of public sector unions. The non-stop demonstrations and millions of dollars spent to oust Walker have come to naught, leaving unions to face the fact that voters simply aren’t convinced by their arguments anymore.

Increasingly, their own ranks aren’t sold on their arguments either. Now that union dues are no longer mandatory, many public-sector workers in Wisconsin are opting to hold on to their money. And beyond Wisconsin, the Wall Street Journal reports, union membership across the country has fallen dramatically:

AFSCME saw membership drops in other states that are politically important and tend to be labor-friendly. In the 12 months ended in February, Ohio’s membership fell 8.5%, Pennsylvania’s dropped 3.4% and Michigan’s declined 11.7%. In California, membership rose 2%.

It’s important to remember that the unions’ fall is a good governance issue, not a partisan one. Walker may be a Republican, but Wisconsin has tended to vote liberal. San Diego’s measure passed with 66 percent of the vote, despite the city’s Democratic majority. What this week has shown is that, forced to choose between outsized union benefits and basic services, voters will pick the latter.

We are likely now to see cities and states all over the country take on excessively generous union contracts; Democrats will offer a “kinder and gentler” form of cutbacks, but from both parties the public sector unions will now hear the same message: “Less.”

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  • thibaud

    “It’s important to remember that the unions’ fall is a good governance issue, not a partisan one.”

    THANK YOU. The issue here is eliminating “pay to play” corruption – not gutting the public sector or eliminating needed services.

    As San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed put it, the voters are telling elected officials that they want their taxes to stop being siphoned off by ludicrous pay packages but to go into services such as schools, libraries, public health/healthcare, safety etc.

    Voters don’t want smaller government; they want CLEAN government. In San Jose, that means MORE officers on the beat, but each officer earning something closer to the median professional compensation in Silicon Valley instead of a top 5% income.

  • Atanu Maulik

    For me the most interesting thing to come out of the Wisconsin elections is the fact that even though union members voted overwhelmingly for Democrats as expected, members of their households did not. Apparently husband or wife being a union member is not enough for the spouse to vote for the D-party. This reveals once again the fundamental flaws with leftist philosophy and why it can never achieve ultimate success. Most human beings will always be driven by enlightened self interest. It is coded into their DNA. No amount of socialist indoctrination is going to change that.–union-households/2012/06/06/gJQA3l6VHV_blog.html

  • Mrs. Davis

    Thank you, thibaud for telling me what I want. Here I thought I wanted smaller government, fewer unnecessary services and lower taxes, but no, I want more. Thanks for letting me know.

  • Corlyss

    Fortunately union membership was never mandatory in the Feds. That could change during the upcoming lame duck session, but probably not. I never belonged to one, hope to die without ever belonging to one. I have never seen the need for them, as opposed to their need for me, since the Labor Dept was created.

  • Corlyss

    @ thibaud.

    “Voters don’t want smaller government;”

    Speak for yourself.

    Of course voters want smaller government. They don’t want to pay for it anymore. Neither do I.

    It’s not possible to take all the corruption and political patronage out of even the best system, no matter how good it is. People don’t get elected to office just to do good; they get elected to look out for their own main interests first and foremost. Doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about your local city official or the federal government.

    The real problem is that most voters lack an appreciation for just how dependent are their daily lives and comforts the government they now think is too big. It is virtually impossible to tease out all the costs and effects to isolate them for intelligent decision making on each one.

  • Bruno Behrend

    Howard Fineman lamented that Republicans have found a “wedge” issue to divide labor. If so, it was an issue handed to them by the Dems.

    This wedge issue is one borne of the very real problems caused by public unions (specifically collective bargaining rights), and not some illusory divide hyped by Republican consultants.

    Let’s just look at high property tax states. If you have to pay $4, 5, or 10,000 in property taxes (which goes mostly to the bloated education sector), just imagine how many fewer cars, washing machines, or electrical, carpentry or plumbing workers these taxpayers can hire.

    This is just one area where public employment is destroying private sector jobs.

    Next up, look at how the guaranteed pension payments are draining money needed for public services. California cities are literally closing down entire sections of local government so they can pay for retirees earning 90% of their last paycheck at age 55.

    These are REAL wedges, destroying REAL private sector union jobs and forcing cuts in REAL public services.

    All the lefty bloggers and occupy bloviators have no answer for this. Not one that works, anyway.

    If the Romney people can find a message that frames the above divide in a 60 second spot, it will be worth paying for the increased advertising cost. If the Republicans can effectively drive this issue, they will not only win the majority of independents, but a decent slice of conservative Dems. The recall election proved this point.

  • Bruno Behrend


    Clean government is by its very nature smaller. The bigger the pool of money, the more ways there are to find ways to waste it.

    Had our founders simply added Term Limits and Hard spending caps (extended to the states, and raised only by referendum) to the Bill of Rights, we’d have advanced farther and faster than where we are now.

    Spending caps, therefore, are the ultimate “progressive” policy. If every dime of government services were subject to a cap, citizens would have been forced to make sure it was more wisely spent.

    It’s a theory, anyway.

  • Ritchie The Riveter

    thibaud … they are not going to get clean government, without making it smaller. Especially at the Federal level.

    The misapplication and overuse of government intervention, as though it is the answer to everything, opens the government wide open to both wasted efforts and crony capitalism.

  • thibaud

    Ritchie has it backwards. Crony capitalism is at least as entrenched, if not more so, in the GOP as it is in the Democratic Party.

    Cronyism goes hand in hand with calls for LESS government.

    Case in point: Scott Brown, Tea Party hero, seems like a nice guy – level-headed, good sense of humor, an easy manner and the common touch. He’s also been very busy shilling for the TBTF banksters and the carried interest scammers, doing his level best to gut the Volcker Rule and other reforms of the sector that is one of the most rotten, and certainly the most damaging to the national interest, of any in American life.

    As to the Tea Party’s patrons, surely you’re aware of their recent under the table dealings with Iran?

    Bloomberg did a summary recently of all the ways that these scoundrels have repeatedly shown their contempt for the law around the world, not least the laws in this country concerning safety from deadly chemicals and unsafe work practices. It’s the longest article I’ve ever seen from Bloomberg, the allegations are solid and documented, and it’s devastating.

    These are your champions of “small government.” They deserve only our unremitting scorn.

    Then there’s the absurd spectacle of both parties bending over backwards to ensure the continued survival and financial success of a few health insurance companies that add next to no value, deliver wretched service, and cause great harm to millions of citizens for no other reason than that they can. Because the GOP especially is determined that these crony capitalists continue battening on the public purse.

    I could go on – the realtors, the corn farmers, Bush’s giveaway to Big Pharma, and on and on.

    I’m hardly an advocate of “big gum’mint.” I voted to rein in San Jose’s pensions and I would love to see California’s government scaled back as well.

    But I can tell the difference between honest and intelligent reform of government and the kind of fool’s game that the Tea Partiers are playing on behalf of Koch Industries.

    You’re being played. Pity you don’t realize it.

  • Corlyss

    Corruption is a tax that everyone pays for even the most minimal services.

  • Ritchie The Riveter

    thibaud … riddle me this.

    If the Kochs (or GE, or Goldman Sachs) can’t collude with government to impose their will upon me … how can they harm me as long as I exercise due diligence?

    I can walk away from them and their companies any time I want … if I even run into them at all. In fact, the only way they clearly have affected my life is having to reply to people like you about them.

    I know BOTH parties have big problems with crony capitalism … that’s one reason we “Tea Party loons” are trying to infiltrate the GOP, to put a stop to it.

    Government intervention is what enables all the crony capitalism, rent-seeking, regulatory capture, and waste of our resources tilting at windmills (AC, DC, and otherwise).

    And that intervention has expanded, because we have outsourced our personal responsibilities to government, thinking that as “experts” they can inevitably do a better job than we can in fulfilling those responsibilities FOR us … even when we see them, again and again, swing their gold-plated sledgehammers to tack up our “pictures”, FOR us.

    Again … until we begin to SERIOUSLY question what we are letting our government get involved with, and take steps to limit that, the dysfunctions and decline will continue.

    Taking a middle-of-the-road position here, leads to becoming roadkill.

  • thibaud

    Koch Industries embraces a wide variety of corrupt practices.

    To take at face value that company’s leaders’ claims to be public-spirited – while they’re trading with Iran, trashing safety rules, disregarding all manner of laws around the world – is to show yourself to be either a fool or a complete cynic.

    Something very weird has happened to the GOP, and for that matter to American conservatism. There used to be a recognition that great concentrations of power, be it industrial, financial or political, represented a threat to free markets and individual freedom generally.

    In other words, that capitalism needed regulation and oversight to protect it from capitalists. The Tea Party and the libbetrarian nuts have shredded this very basic, fundamentally conservative American, notion.

    This more than any other reason is preventing the GOP from making major gains in a deadlocked nation. A responsible, sane, moderate GOP of the sort that prevailed in the Danforth-Lugar era would dominate. As it is, the public is faced with a choice of two distasteful options, the Hollywood maroons and the Tea Party nutters, and neither of them will become the dominant party and steer this country in a coherent direction.

    To paraphrase Mr Mead, from this gridlock, not change, will come.

  • thibaud

    @ Ritchie – “until we begin to SERIOUSLY question what we are letting our government get involved with… we have outsourced our personal responsibilities to government, thinking that as “experts” they can inevitably do a better job than we can in fulfilling those responsibilities FOR us”

    Are you joking? This is a caricature of libertarianism, right?

    Let’s look at the sectors where Koch Industries operates, and examine your and Charlie & David’s call to smash the State and have individuals exercise their “responsibilities” instead.

    Are you seriously arguing that the CHEMICALS industry’s work practices should be free of government oversight and regulation?

    The Bloomberg article is a litany of bad behavior by Koch companies that has actually killed people. Are you joking?

  • Jim.


    If you and Leftists like you can’t reach across whatever ideological divide separates you from the TEA Party, TBTF banks will never be broken up.

    If they remain as large as they are, they will capture any regulatory regime you care to impose. Why wouldn’t they? Their incentive couldn’t be greater; and politicians like their power too much not to accept donations from those big-money contributors.

    More than that, if you insist that we avoid “frankenstein kludges” as a matter of philosophy, you practically require politicians to think in terms of massive entities, particularly at the national level. Consistency and elegance requires as few entities as possible– so much for changing “too big” in “too big to fail”.

    Some regulation is necessary, sure. Some public spending is necessary, sure. But our government needs to become more efficient with both, and make do wth far less of each, instead of eternally howling for more, more, more.

  • Ritchie The Riveter

    There used to be a recognition that great concentrations of power, be it industrial, financial or political, represented a threat to free markets and individual freedom generally.

    Precisely … however, the only way these concentrations can significantly threaten us, is if they have the force of law/regulation/public policy behind them, to compel us to bend to their wishes.

    Government is their enabler … deny them access to it, while preserving your own rights, and they can’t oppress you as long as you are a thinking human being.

    Trying to interdict them through layers of regulation that penalize honest and dishonest alike, or by actively tilting the playing field to favor their “victims”, are a fool’s errand … for like the velociraptors in Jurassic Park, they will “find a way” to work around any law our regulation, even turning them to their advantage. All we are doing is making life harder for the honest and innovative.

    The ONLY way you will curb them, is to cut off their “food supply” … the ability to leverage government intervention to impose their desires upon us involuntarily.

    If our government focuses ONLY upon the tasks necessary to preserve our unalienable rights, their activity is at cross-purposes with such exploitation … and it INHERENTLY limits their power over us, while also maximizing our ability to work around any problems they cause.

    The Kochs aren’t the real problem … nor is Wall Street.

    WE … who are supposed to run a government of the people, by the people … are the problem, because we have concentrated on having government act FOR the people so much, we have outsourced some of our most essential responsibilities as people to it … and opened the doors wide for our own exploitation and abuse.

    Until we HONESTLY deal with that, the problems will not go away … even if the Koch bottle runs dry.

  • thibaud

    @#14 – why did your man Scott Brown gut the Volcker rule? Why is he protecting the TBTF banksters’ prop trading/gambling with a government backstop?

  • thibaud

    Another problem with the ideological rigidity of the TPers and libertarians is their inability to recognize solutions that are staring them in the face.

    Case in point: our private sector’s massive failure to make any meaningful dent in an unemployment rate that is far higher than Germany’s or Holland’s.

    This failure is devastating. It’s the biggest problem, by far, that we face. The election will turn on it. And the fact that, 3+ years in, we have a huge and growing number of long-term unemployed workers, many of them older, means that we have created an entire demographic of Americans whose lifetime earnings, family stability and personal health are all certain to be severely diminished.

    Scaling back regulations won’t get these people hired. Cutting taxes – aside from payroll tax cuts – won’t get them hired.

    Unlike the head-in-the-sand libertarians, Kevin Hassett is looking across the pond and drawing positive lessons from our European cousins’ heavy state interventions.

    The German government’s heavily interventionist work-sharing program – along with their refusal to burden employers with health insurance costs – is a huge reason that German unemployment is only 6% now.


    “It seems clear that neither [Republicans nor Democrats were] prepared to deal with the crisis of long-term unemployment. In spite of the severity of the downturn, there was a general expectation that the economy would bounce back, as it had after previous downturns.

    “Some countries that were more familiar with long-term unemployment, notably Germany, were much better prepared to deal with the fallout from the crisis.

    “The German government aggressively pushed work-sharing measures. This meant that instead of workers’ being laid off and receiving unemployment benefits, the German government helped companies keep employees, working fewer hours, on their payrolls by subsidizing their wages with the money saved on unemployment benefits.

    “The result of this policy is that Germany’s unemployment rate is now lower than it was at the start of the downturn, even though its growth has been no better than ours.”

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