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Blue Civil War in the Nation’s Most Unionized State

New York’s governor Andrew Cuomo has been one of the Democratic Party’s most visible fighters in the struggle against the entrenched interests of the blue social model. As the NY Times reports, he is taking on the public sector unions, and some of his most important allies are private sector unions.

The Committee to Save New York, Cuomo’s “most important ally in his battles with public-sector unions over government spending, pensions and teacher accountability,” receives funding from a group of building trade unions, which have chosen to make a stand against their public sector cousins. According to the spokesman of one of the unions, his organization gave money to Gov. Cuomo “because we believed it was important to support the governor’s agenda of bringing fiscal responsibility to New York and attracting private investment and job creation to our state.”

Along with Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel, some leading democrats are realizing that the real fight in the future of American politics is not Republican vs. Democrat; it doesn’t have to be a partisan battle at all. It’s the old institutions that resist change, many of which are blue party stalwarts, the organizations that consume money rather than generate it, which argue and complain for a greater share of available resources instead of creating new funds — this is the epicenter of the new battleground, and it isn’t just Republicans who are joining the charge.

Public unions are the focus of intense attacks from Republicans, including the wealthy conservative donors whose millions of dollars helped Gov. Scott Walker defeat a labor-backed recall effort in Wisconsin this week. But as states struggle with declining tax revenues, and as gridlock in Washington leaves little prospect for additional federal aid to states, the alliance among Mr. Cuomo, the Committee to Save New York and the private unions reflects a new level of complexity to labor’s plight. Even as unions face off against Republican opponents, they are also often at war with a prominent Democratic governor, who has conquered Albany in part by dividing labor in the country’s most unionized state.

Public sector unions at the end of the day don’t have all that many friends. People who think we have too much government want to cut their jobs; people who think government needs to do more are rebelling against their demands for pay and pensions out of line with what the private sector offers. States like New York are slowly waking up to realize just how uncompetitive their high cost structures have made them; as that realization spreads we can expect more and more private sector unions to support changes that the public unions want to fight.

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  • Kenny

    Government unions vs. private sector unions — a falling out among thieves.

  • Anthony

    WRM, I don’t think it is a private sector union and a public union dichotomy as much as public unions symbiotic relationship generally with legislatures and legislatives; institutions and individuals who yea or nea monies promised for unsustainable commitments (contracts, pensions, health provisions, etc.) on public dime – now this is not only done for union interests.

  • Alex Scipio

    If people, including Govt-sector union members REALLY believe that the best way forward is to belong to a Gov sector union, they will join said union absent coercion and support gov sector workers choosing to so join. And that’s fine.

    The problem is the coercion. When given a choice, neither private nor Gov sector workers choose unions. AFSCME membership dropped 50% in WI once it was voluntary. Look for it to decline more. And the 7% membership in the private sector includes workers in union states where they have no choice. In RTW states unions are not illegal – just voluntary. And workers choose NOT to belong to them. So much for Dems being “pro-choice.”

  • The Reticulator

    I support this divide between public and private sector unions. There is no good reason to have public employee unions. Private sector unions serve a real need. Can’t say their politics and mine are best buddies, but their existence is a response to a real need. If capital is allowed to unionize and form big corporations, then labor should be allowed to unionize, too.

  • Anthony

    Correction @2: …with legislatures and legislators;

  • Carol Simpson

    Often though, the government outsources government services to sectors of the economy that employ private sector union members, such as building and construction trades, health care workers – and many of the contractors doing work in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries. This just reinforces the crony capitalist system. Is the government actually saving money by outsourcing jobs or just trying to reduce government payrolls?

    The real reforms should be in health benefits and retirement programs in all sectors of the economy.

  • Snorri Godhi

    There are historical precedents: Italy in the early 1920s and Germany in the early 1930s. The socialists sensu stricto represented the interests of private sector blue collar workers, while the fascists/nazis represented the interests of public sector white collar workers. See The Road to Serfdom, end of chapter 8.

    NB: in no way I wish to imply that Cuomo and private sector unions are socialists, but you are welcome to your own conclusions wrt the relationship of US public sector unions to fascism.

    I’d also like to point out the obvious fascist propaganda in the NYT:
    “wealthy conservative donors” have better uses for their “millions of dollars” than helping Scott Walker, since Wisconsin would need a couple of decades of Walker rule before “wealthy conservative donors” might find it profitable to invest there.

  • Corlyss

    “Along with Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel, some leading democrats are realizing that the real fight in the future of American politics is not Republican vs. Democrat; it doesn’t have to be a partisan battle at all.”

    Unfortunately it does have to be partisan. Which is the party that gives away the most in terms of unproductive money? The Dems. Republicans give money to people who create private sector jobs. Who do the Dems give money to? Race- and poverty-pimps. Seniors who have abandoned the workplace. Unemployeed to keep them voting Democratic. Welfare unto the 4th and 5th generations. Public employees and their unions.

    Those people own the Democratic party. They will never tolerate a cut in their benes. Never. There’ll be all out civil war before they allow it to happen.

  • thibaud

    There are some really ugly and stupid comments on these threads.

    Mr. Mead may think it fun or good sport to keep stoking the fires of the know-nothings here, but I think it would help our discussion to move forward if he would just point out that, in contrast to the posters who allege that “Republicans give money to people who create private sector jobs…. Dems give money to .. race- and poverty-pimps,” he might point out the following:

    1. Both parties are friends of, shall we say, CORPORATE “pimps” in various sectors – most notably, agribusiness, banking, health insurance. Ask yourself why this nation’s top five banks have actually expanded their share of the nation’s assets, despite their officers’ flagrant incompetence and dishonesty that cratered our economy and that continues to weigh upon economic growth and recovery. Pimps, indeed.

    2. Regarding the ludicrous claim that “Republicans give money to people who create private sector jobs,” Via Meadia really needs to expand its purview beyond the good ol’ USA and look at some examples from northern Europe – most notably Germany, where in contrast to our private sector employers who are doing everything they can to AVOID hiring people in the US, the German _government_ is actually intervening to force employers to hire people through its “Kurzarbeit” program.

    Even Kevin Hassett of the right-wing American Enterprise Institute has (finally) praised this very “blue” intervention by Germany’s government that pressures the private sector to reduce unemployment:

    Can we please get beyond the ludicrous canard – refuted by so much evidence from northern Europe – about how a small and non-interventionist government is the best way to reduce unemployment and get us back to high growth?

  • mouell

    Thibaud – republicans don’t ‘give’ money as much as tjhey let the people who create it – keep it. They do not have a desire to ‘redistribute’ money from the producers to the non-producers. Yeah – what we need is more references to NYT articles as ‘proof’ of viable economic policies. the same paper that employs paul Krugman. Geez.

  • cubanbob

    1. Both parties are friends of, shall we say, CORPORATE “pimps” in various sectors – most notably, agribusiness, banking, health insurance. Ask yourself why this nation’s top five banks have actually expanded their share of the nation’s assets, despite their officers’ flagrant incompetence and dishonesty that cratered our economy and that continues to weigh upon economic growth and recovery. Pimps, indeed.

    Using your logic why give even more money to the public sector? The public sector hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory either. By the way, the corporate tax load is lower on average in Northern Europe than in the US. Maybe they know something you don’t.

  • Laura Blanchard

    I imagine those building trades unions are hoping fervently that no one will notice the pernicious effects of Davis-Bacon.

  • Andy Freeman

    I wouldn’t be surprised if German and other northern European politicians were competent. (However, it will be interesting to see how the north does after the southern European house of cards falls. They’re going to lose a lot of sales.)

    However, that’s irrelevant because we have American politicans, and they’re not competent.

    In other words, you can’t justify US govt activism by pointing to successes in other places.

  • BubbaFLA

    thibaud’s not quite being on the level. They’re not “force(ing) employers” to hire people. They’re spending unemployment monies for a duration of 24 months to help deploy job sharing programs so that you may end up with only part time work. But it costs less, for a time, for both the employer and the state than unemployment insurance and payments.

    That’s great insomuch as it’s an assist to keeping people entirely off the government teat. But it is NOT a big gov program like the SS and Medi**** ponzi schemes. Funny that thibaud mentions this small intervention as an example of how grrrrreat leviathan is for all. How bout a little further reading into this via this Deutsche Bank paper:$WIPO&rwobj=ReDisplay.Start.class&rwsite=DBR_INTERNET_EN-PROD

    So, basically, this is another one of those “what can’t last forever, won’t” things and isn’t particularly applicable to a service based economy with guvmint jobs being a large percentage thereof. So thibaud, if you’re going to advocate for leviathan at least have the honor to state that you’re a utopian communist with complete disregard for human nature and basic economic principles. At least we’d know not to take the time to read your posts.

  • M. Murcek

    Lenin versus Trotsky being sold as Jesus versus the Devil. Have you no shame, Mr. Mead?

  • thibaud

    @ # 14 – ” Funny that thibaud mentions this small intervention as an example of how grrrrreat leviathan is for all.”

    Nice straw man. Typical of these boards at VM that even when one of the starve-the-beast crowd you grudgingly accepts incontrovertible evidence, he follows with the usual canard about lefty/socialist/”leviathan” worshipping.

    If Mr Mead were to bother doing some actual research – or even a bit of cursory googling – he would realize that his mindless caricature of what he calls “blue” nations ignores some rather awkward facts:

    1. the thriving northern nations I cite aren’t “socialist.” In the case of Sweden and Canada especially, they have in the last 15 years imposed fiscal discipline, pared back wasteful public sector spending and lowered tax rates.

    2. At the same time, none of the thriving northern nations has shredded its safety net and essential government services, as Paul Ryan’s ridiculous budget proposal would.

    3. Note that all of these nations that either have a) much lower unemployment than us + comparable growth (Germany, Holland), or higher growth and lower unemployment AND greater fiscal discipline AND better-funded pensions (Canada, Sweden) all have universal health care and a strong safety net.

    At some point, the secret will get out, and Americans will learn that their brethren to the north / across the north Atlantic are actually upholding the yankee ethos of mutual provision and decent government that’s absent from our age of Tea Party nuts and pay-to-play hacks.

  • John Stephens

    Winston Churchill’s remarks are instructive:

    “If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.”

  • crosspatch

    It is my opinion that the politicians are simply favoring the side of their bread that has the most butter. Until the private sector unions ante up more than the public sector unions, the Democrats will favor the public sector.

    It is much easier for government to “create” public sector jobs because that is directly under their control. It is much more difficult to create private sector jobs because in most cases it means reducing government’s “take” from the economy and there is no guarantee of success.

    So we have a system of institutionalized corruption where the public sector unions pump money into the campaign funds of the politicians who directly create more public sector jobs by expanding government which increases the cash flow into the union which they “kick back” to the politician in the form of increased campaign donations.

    It is just plain corruption.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Americans like thibaud have been advocating what they _think_ is the “Nordic model” or the “German model” for decades by now.
    (During which time, “blue” States have become more like Southern Europe.)

    They cannot be taken seriously unless they show they’re serious, by emigrating en masse to Northern Europe. You see, unlike them, I am in a position to compare quality of life in North America, Southern Europe, and Northern Europe, so I could correct a few of their misconceptions; but I’ll just say this: as a result of my experience, I have moved to Eastern Europe.

  • wpw

    This is a tried-and-true method – playing private-sector unions v the public sector. Cuomo has had a ringside seat to watch Chris Christie and Steve Sweeney (NJ Senate President, and private union official) work together to rein in bits and pieces of public union overreach.

    There is much more to be done in both states.

  • DonM

    Public spending is category 4: the person spending doesn’t care about the value, and doesn’t care about the cost.

    Personal spending is category 1: the person spending cares about both value and cost.

    Public unions seek to take advantage of the inefficiency of public spending to game more than market rates, partly for public union members, but mostly for public union bosses.

  • richard40

    Private sector unions are at least subject to some market constraints, because if they demand too much they kill off the company that pays them, or induces them to move offshore, as long a gov does not intervene with unjustified pro labor laws. Public sector unions have no market constraints at all, and their support of corrupt politicians often removes any political constraints as well. For that reason, public sector unions need to be fought, and greatly constrained if not destroyed.

  • Lorenz Gude

    I remember in the 50s Sweden was held up as the poster person for Social Democracy in the salons of the Eastern Intellectual Establishment. Similarly in its training academies like Columbia, fully centralized planning such as that found in the Soviet Union was presented as having roughly equal advantages and disadvantages when compared with the American capitalism. Since those days we have learned that making the public sector 100% of the economy is a disaster. The jury is still out on what, at any particular moment in time, is the optimum balance between the private and public sector. Right now coming out of a half century of enormous prosperity we find ourselves with a bloated public sector, ineffective regulation of the excesses of the private sector, and faced with the daunting task of trying to reduce the public sector without collapsing the economy. Part of the answer is improving the quality of government and that is what I see happening at the state level with governors like Walker and Cuomo. Likewise I know a Democrat in New Jersey who has lead a grassroots campaign to oust an inefficient and corrupt municipal government that heretofore everyone thought they simply had to put up with. When the President said that governors and mayors were not creating enough jobs I was amazed that he would actually make that claim in the current situation. Governor Christie speaking in Chicago immediately took the opportunity to say that the President is going in exactly the wrong direction. Unlike Marxists, I don’t believe there is a right side of History. I see History more like the weather – as fickle and unpredictable. Right now I think Governor Christie has the wind as his back, which given his size, is altogether a good thing.

  • Albert

    anybody can argue that state government is blotead as it is and this trimming up is good for them. I think most people would agree until they (for instance) call 911 and get put on hold because there aren’t enough operators (Detroit, Tulsa). Just sayin’ it’s good to be critical, but view all the information you see critically and you might find that the other side is just insane as opposed to absolutely crackers.

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