The Largest Political Machine
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  • thibaud

    ” The fight over the future of public sector unions may be the most important political battle in the United States today.”

    Maybe. Maybe not. Is the NEA more consequential than a corrupt and tottering financial sector that cratered the global economy?

    The sector that has captured our political class, that has received trillions of dollars worth of favors to prop up its tottering TBTF champions, the one continues to frustrate efforts to clean up the mess and get the economy moving again?

    You’re joking, right?

  • Anthony

    WRM, there needs to be a way to break out of the money-union-special interests-politics trap (federally, statewide, and locally). Question is how do election outcomes pivot on such a new arrangement (special interest and money having less influence than general electorate). The challenge is focusing Americans on common benefit and mutual gain – long term sustainability. Political machines come in all configurations (lobbies, think tanks, corporations, unions, media, etc.) while mask as stand alone entities. Yes, we have important political battles in the United States today and reforming government/public sector feed back loop is vital component but not most signal going forward.

  • thibaud

    Some editing here is called for – the above should read:

    While the revelations made in this article are hardly a shock, understanding the role of the banksters in policy-making is key to understanding the functioning of the modern American political class.

    The deep pockets of and regulatory capture by TBTF banksters, hedge funds, trading houses and mortgage lenders creates the revolving door that keeps our political class in power.

    It’s the ultimate political machine. The financial oligarchs lobby elected officials to get more money and benefits for their members. The stranglehold that our bloated financial elite has over our economy makes it easy for politicians to give them what they want—even if it is more than what the nation can actually afford.

    As a result, the nation is now saddled with a financial structure that we are in no position to sustain. Many Americans are now hoping to move toward a more balanced, normal economy, but the banksters continue to fight such measures even as their asset-bubble economic model has been shown to be unsustainable. Many find that the banksters are just too powerful to fight.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    As the Wisconsin reforms have shown a large percentage of Union members don’t approve of the way their dues are being spent. When dues and union membership is made optional, at least 50% of the members quit and refuse to pay dues. The Wisconsin unions will be forced to cut their political spending by at least 50%, and as time goes by and union power diminishes they will lose more members and more dues.

    This loss of power is going to be reflected in the Political arena, by Democrats being replaced by Republicans, and renegotiations of Union contracts with cuts in pensions, benefits, work rules, and in many cases an end to Union contracts. The shrinking Union participation in the private sector will be joined by the public sector, and the Big Labor leg of the Blue Model will be irreversibly broken. Good ridden to the Labor Gang monopolies they should never have existed in the first place.

  • Richard Treitel

    Anthony, just because there needs to be a way doesn’t mean there is a way.

    First, there are voters who vote for TV ads rather than policies. No-one can, or should, disenfranchise them.

    Second, there are voters who would rather elect a good Christian that someone who guards the public purse carefully. See above.

    Third, there’s a Constitution that, by spreading power widely, spreads responsibility just as widely, so even if the voters did want to toss someone out, they’d have a hard time figuring out whom.

    My favourite non-fantasy remedy is to try to strengthen political parties, hoping that a cohesive party would have enough heft to stand up to a special interest group.

  • Tom Gates

    Thibaud, who got the benefit of all of those banksters favors? The money that Democratic operatives at FNMA Johnson who ran the McGovern and Mondaale campaignes, Raines, Gorelick (pay-off to take care of Bill Clinton’s monkey business), VIP Loans from Countyrwide, underwater mortgage by Bof A to George Stephanopolus for goodness sake, even Elizabeth Warren flipped houses as a $450,000 law professorship was not enough. Gee, what is Jon Corzine up to, Marc and Denise Rich, Warren Buffet, and even Jamie, I am a moderate Democrat, Dimon. And how much bankster money did Presidents Obama and Clinton get? Quite a bit, certainly much more than John McCain and others did. Why, because they are much more to be feared from low ball politics.
    Face it Thibaud, it is Big Government, Big Labor, Big Higher Education,Big Banks, Big Business and Big Energy against the little guy and middle america, the proles. Just like Lenin wrote it up. Your ilk sold out its 60’s and 70s ideals, if it ever had any, and it is the estbalishment today.
    What amuses me more is the WRM blog comes across like these NEA actions are anything new. My Mother a 4th grade school teacher has been fighting the NEA on this for 20 years.

  • An

    @WRM Unions and other special interests are symptoms, not causes in my opinion. The breadth and power of the Government has grown immensely in the past century. There is virtually no facet of one’s life that does not have some sort of regulation. When the government can decide the winners and losers, its natural the players will do what they must to ensure they come out as “winners.”

  • How hard is this to solve? You get the Left and Right to stop promoting their pet causes through government.

    Then it is maintaining infrastructure and collecting those that violate the equal rights of others in a direct way – violence and fraud for the most part.

    Neither side will give. We will have a collapse. Hopefully temporary. A few weeks. A decade would be very bad.

  • John Burke

    There is another aspect to this union affinity for a wide range of “progressive” causes — what you might call a cultural change in the leadership of American trade unions. Today, most unions are led and staffed by college graduates and often holders of advanced and professional degrees. This was not always the case; indeed, rising from the shop floor used to be a virtually universal requirement for holding union office or snaring a staff job. The famous Reuther brothers who built the UAW were sons of a German immigrant worker, and Walter, longtime UAW President, got his start on the shop floor where he helped organize his fellow workers. The current President of the UAW, Bob King, is the son of an auto executive (!) who graduated from the University of Michigan and then became a lawyer. You would be hard-pressed to find a person with an important staff job in the UAW’s international offices who ever worked in a shop or did not graduate from college. Often, such staffers are recruited from the universe of progressive and Democratic party operatives and activists.

    Another example is the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) and its various succesors and offshoots. Once one of the nation’s largest and most influential unions and a pioneer of industrial unionism, the ILG was led through the decades of its hey day by David Dubinsky, a baker and union agitator in what is now Belarus who escaped the Russian Empire after being sentenced to Siberian exile and became a garment worker in New York. The recent heads of successor unions are graduates of Yale and Cornell who never did a stroke of physical labor. One, Bruce Raynor, who lost an internecine battle with the Yalie, is now the head of a consulting firm. Another example is Andy Stern, famous for his long-time leadership of SEIU, who is a graduate of the University of Michigan.

    The teachers and other public employee unions, of course, represent members who are heavily or entirely college-educated professionals, so this culture shift coincides with the increasing dominance of these unions in the house of labor.

    The bottom line is that the people calling the shots in the labor movement are interchangeable with the staff of the Center for American Progress — “progressives” all.

  • thibaud,

    The founders understood this at a deep level. Voting was limited to property owners. Those with a financial stake in the system.

    You want to restore balance? Work for iron clad property rights. Obama’s auto deal was not a help in this matter.

  • Jim.

    How is this system anything other than a set of well-laundered kickbacks?

    Union leaders and the politicians that profit from and protect this system should go to jail, alongside the TBTF bankers.

  • SteveMG

    Part of the problem in fixing this mess is that Republicans (mostly) wish to destroy rather than reform. And Democrats (mostly) don’t want to do anything but act in a reactionary and defiant way (see above and here and there and everywhere).

    So, we have these two forces – the radicals who wish to go too far and the reactionaries who don’t want to do much of anything.

    This is an opportunity for either party to move beyond their hardliners and enact true reforms. The question is whether they can.

    So far our political leadership – on both sides – have failed us. They need to step up.

  • Joe Walters

    The Circle of Corruption has to end!
    COnfiscate Taxes from Taxpaying Americans –
    Give to Union Teachers/etc. – Union Confiscates Dues from Good Americans – Goons from Union give payola to Campaigns – Congress critters pay back unions with contracts that can not be justified.
    The circle starts over again and the American Taxpayer gets screwed, this has to end!

  • CobbleHill

    A few points, starting with Thibaud. First, per the article, the unions give almost all of their money to the Democratic Party. So from a partisan view, that’s a big deal. Wall Street money, on the other hand, goes to both parties. Plus, it’s a lot of money, and potentially a lot more than Wall Street gives. In NYS, public sector union dues are probably about 3/4 of a billion a year. Not all goes to politics, but that’s big chunk of change to work with. If I remember right, last time I looked, the UFT budget was $138 million per year.

    No argument with you that there is something wrong with finance and the connection between Wall Street and Washington. But that is not just back scratching. It’s also a lot of confused thinking by allegedly smart people. Also, per an earlier Mead post, there is also a big connection between public sector unions and our friends on Wall Street. If you get in the right spot investing pension funds, you can make a pretty penny. If, like Alan Hevesi, you get in the wrong spot, you can go to jail.

    Per Jackson Libertarian, that’s an interesting point, because from a purely pecuniary point of view, it clearly makes sense for union memmbers to pay their union dues. Maybe it’s precisely the social causes that turn them off.

    Also, why didn’t Professor Mead mention Al Sharpton? The fact that taxpayers are helping prop him up is truly something. And quite a comment about the modern coalition that is the Democratic Party.

  • Steve Antler

    “Banksters indeed!” Who are they? Who are their customers?

    They are a non-subsidized, highly regulated part of the economy. They are there because they provide services their clients are willing to pay for.

    And who are their clients? Why, none other than the pension funds owned by teachers’ unions, state and municipal employees, the USPS, and so on.

    The “banksters” are simply employees of the public sector unions.

  • Bill

    If you’re interested in how unions operate with politicians in Democrat-controlled states, check out the recent Federal indictment of the ex-Finance Director of CT House Speaker Donovan’s congressional campaign.

    Most of the named parties have union connections, and the Dem pols in Connecticut would rather lose the Congressional seat rather than cross the powerful unions in control here by speaking out against Speaker Donovan (who coincidentally was a big ex-union guy before coming CT House Speaker).

    In my opinion, unions are corrupt as they forsake the good of the many for the privilege of the select few.

    Thibaud: while I agree the financial industry has a similar fundamental issue (although I’d cast the problem as private profit/public risk), your comments are simply not relevant to WRM’s point regarding unions, and public unions in particular. Care to comment on the matter at hand rather than just rabble-rousing, or are you actually trying to suggest the unions would be ‘clean’ if it weren’t for that wicked financial industry?

    Last I heard, unions are all about the ‘finances’ (see indictment referenced above), so sounds a little like pot calling kettle ‘black’ to me…


  • Mike M.

    With municipalities around the country starting to go bankrupt left and right, the gravy train has just about come to the end of the line.

  • Alfred Hussein Neuman

    thibaud forgot to add, it’s all George Bush’s fault and global warming. If “The deep pockets of and regulatory capture by TBTF banksters, hedge funds, trading houses and mortgage lenders creates the revolving door that keeps our political class in power” – then Barney Frank and Chris Dodd are the corrupt leaders that ensured in 2004 and 2006 that the TBTF couldn’t be reformed (after 2006 the Democrats controlled the congress and all calls for reform stopped).

  • Steve Williams

    Having worked with private sector and public unions for many years, I know how unions not only protect the poorest workers, but the productivity level of all union workers decreases. That’s why a private contractor can put a sidewalk in twice as fast and for one third the cost as the city union workers. That’s why private schools and charter schools as a whole score significantly higher in every category than public schools.

  • thibaud

    What SteveMg said.

    Pox on both your houses.

  • Jim M

    This year the unions will be outspent by the billionaires club more than ten fold. If they don’t speak up for the underclass, now the middle class who will.

  • B. Samuel Davis

    Typical Democratic Party corruption – the Party uses public unions like the teachers Unions as a filter through which taxpayer funds make their way back to the party. The Democrats also scream for election finance reform since it doesn’t affect the taxpayer money it receives but limits everything else.

    It is a corrupt scheme that will eventually destroy the political system. But, it’s only one of the way Democrats use corrupt means to gain power. The other is through legal and illegal immigration which turned California from red to blue. Democrats also use the power of the purse to encourage governmental dependency, since people dependent on government usually vote Democratic. In fact, Democrats have become the party of government, also a dangerous concern for our democracy.

  • Lee

    A couple thoughts:

    If unions really were “the ultimate political machine,” then why are practically all the presidential appointees corporate executives (as opposed to labor leaders) and why is the ratio of business owners to labor organizers in Congress so low? And why are the Chamber of Commerce and other corp-interested groups so powerful?

    If unions really were “the ultimate political machine,” then why have we seen the mushrooming of international free trade agreements over the last 20 years (at precsiely the point when the American laborer’s value [cost/benefit] was at its nadir against the developing world in unskilled labor indutries? Two Dem presidents signed the biggest free trade agreements in our nation’s history.

    And also, in WI, liberals and unions got outspent by conservatives and corporate interests by about 5:1.

  • suibne

    RCP should be shut down. They are a socialist outlet for propagandistic purposes.

  • Bill


    It seems you define ‘reform’ as “change that I agree with”. It’s no surprise you think anything other than what _you_ agree with should be labeled ‘destruction’.

    So, I reject your faulty premise – and I’m not so surprised that Thibaud doesn’t.

    The central point brought out by WRM is that the unions, and particularly public employee unions, are a powerful and partisan political machine. I don’t see anything that either you or Thibaud have said that disputes that fact.


  • Anthony

    @5, Richard Treitel you note three societal realities and I agree.

    However, my position or proffer has assumed Constitutional structure, distracted society, and religious impulses; further, social arrangements are instituted by people (citizens) of a country/nation – human life is less an affair of institutions and systems than of people and an interplay of motivations and abilities.

    To concede that people have choices under the rule of external freedom does not preclude or make improbable another way (inventive Americans can find a way) vis-a-vis money-union-special interests-politics trap. To think otherwise may imply that the democratic system in the United States has become a parody of itself on the governmental level (and if that’s the case why search for remedies). Thanks for the perspective.

  • thibaud

    I don’t dispute that public employee unions are a powerful partisan political machine.

    I dispute the emphasis that the other side’s partisans place on this machine.

    It is frankly ridiculous to say that teachers are more consequential, more to blame, for our current plight than the bankers who have nearly destroyed the world’s economy.

    We will not have broad-based economic growth and a broad middle class again in this country until we find a way to end the bankers’ stranglehold on our politics and our economy.

  • Bill


    As mentioned by WRM, unions mainly operate at the state level where they can reap the most benefits. Their impact is somewhat less at the federal level which helps explain your first point.

    The free-trade agreements you refer to cost the public sector unions nothing. Since the private sector participation in unions is 6.9% (and public sector union representation at 37%, see reference below), there was minimal impact to the ‘brotherhood’ when these agreements were enacted, so I don’t see that as a huge obstacle with regard to the union influence question.

    If unions were indeed outspent in Wisconsin, I suppose they should consider changing their message from ‘enabling the non-producers’ to something else which can gain more traction with the voting public. However, the ‘5 to 1’ spending advantage you cite is just a media talking point that does not include $21M unions spent prior to the Wisconsin election.

    Do you think it’s fair not to include the previous union spending in your cited figures – or are you just another hapless victim of the media propaganda machine?



    Union membership from BLS:

    Union spending in Wisc:

  • john werneken

    My union (I was perhaps the principle local and state leader for 5 years or so) had (and retains) considerable clout, with money, manpower, and relationships. Naturally my politicking outside the Union was an extension of my politicking inside the Union. Any large firm behaves similarly, its leaders accountable to internal stakeholders at least to some extent and devoting considerable energy to influencing the selection of public officials and their actions once elected.

    The citizens, union members, and corporate stakeholders need to be sent to the same scaffold that you would send the union leaders to. Thousands of years ago it was known that when the entire citizenry can vote themselves benefits, they probably will, and may not care all that much about costs or consequences, as long as those are not immediate.

    It’s an art retaining leadership, growing one’s organization, maintaining a favorable relationship with the governmental Hydra, and keeping one’s organization on the side of preserving the long-term prosperity of its economic environment.

    Obviously the Californian and Federal governments face solvency challenges. Perhaps as was said in earlier comments the cure must shrink the scope of Government AND locate more authority in smaller jurisdictions. I don’t think the Californian and American national interest group leaders are any dumber than I was, but I do tend to think that both jurisdictions are not just too big but too broad in reach.

  • Johnny Crockett

    The public unions brought on the recalls in Wisconsin. This cost Wisconsin tax payers millions! While we donated our time and money to save our State, you sent thousands of PAID union thugs to ‘organize’ agitate and steal (See Racine, City of) elections. Add that unreported cost and the spending ratio was probably 1:1. BTW, we’ll be back in force this fall.

  • Jeb

    Lee- Excellent points. The WSJ journal article referenced here states that the two largest teachers unions have spent over $60 million per year (on average) over the past five years on political activities. A drop -in the bucket compared to the $400 million being spent by the “two” Koch brothers on this year’s election alone. At least all the Union expenditure records are public, versus the secretive spends of GOP-aligned Super-PAC. Exactly which “special-interest” spending is more of a threat to our democracy?

  • Walter Sobchak

    I am old enough to remember that in the Fall of 1960, the teachers lounge at my middle school was graced by a poster of Richard Nixon. Of course that was before the teachers unions.

  • Joe M

    Thibaud. I agree that there should be political consequences for politicians that collude with banks. However, as bad as that is, banks still compete with each other and work within the most regulated industry in the US. There are no such checks on Public Employee Unions.

    Unions played an important historical role during a time when companies held regional monopolies on work. The need for that role has gone away as no company holds a monopoly on work and the ability for people to relocate has increased by folds. Now, unions use a monopoly on labor in a manner that is just as destructive as the old coal companies they used to fight.

  • Ricardo

    Here is what I don’t understand. Union members pay dues to the union. The union uses it to maintain workers welfare and place in employment and etc…Yet I don’t understand how mmucho mucho dinero to politicians and pacs help the very members themselves. Why haven’t the members demanded a cut in membership dues? Why should the government be the only entity helping employees by lowering taxes, design special tax programs and etc. How much more money will the members have to spend and take care of their family if the Union only charges what is needed to adequately represent the members.

  • Nate

    “It’s the ultimate political machine. Teachers’ unions lobby elected officials to get more money and benefits for their members.”

    The ultimate political machine? Give me a break. This is a weak piece with little evidence to show that teachers unions have been ‘getting more money and benefits’. Frankly, all working Americans deserve more money and benefits for what they do these days. And if state budgets are burdened by the promises they made to public employees, the answer lies in reforming corporate tax rates.

  • SteveMG

    “It seems you define ‘reform’ as “change that I agree with”. It’s no surprise you think anything other than what _you_ agree with should be labeled ‘destruction’.”

    No, I define “radical” as those (not all but too many) on the right who wish to use this problem not to fix things but to destroy their enemies.

    Too many people on the political right want to “get” the unions. Not fix the pension problem but eliminate an opponent. People be damned (there’s a lot of good people who work for the public sector).

    Similarly, those on the left – as Via Meadia has documented – don’t want any reforms since it’s their political gravy train. They view reforms as weakening their political power and not fixing a significant problem.

    I say both extremes – the radicals and the reactionaries – need to end the “my side good, your side evil” view and work together.

  • Edmund Burke

    Unions are parasites that kill their hosts. The public organizations have not yet died, like much of private industry has, because they are not subject to the marketplace. But the insatiable greed of the pub employee unions has finally caught up to them. Those cities/states that do not Walkerize them will go bankrupt. The party’s over.

  • Gscott

    “Maybe. Maybe not. Is the NEA more consequential than a corrupt and tottering financial sector that cratered the global economy?”

    It is not. Besides, the NEA and other public sector unions’ contributions were directly tied to Bill Clinton’s bullying of Fannie and Freddie to loosen loan standards. If you think for a second that the housing bubble was created and burst by Wall Street, you are deluded about what happened. What happened was simple. People bought homes they couldn’t afford and ultimately had no intention of paying for. The policies allowed high-credit risk individuals to lie about their incomes and means of paying back property so that they could acquire housing beyond their means. These actions were encouraged so that Dems could buy votes.

    Where is the corruption? It is exactly where this article identifies it.

    You and most pro-union types know this, which is why the deflection to Wall Street is made.

    Wall Street is a transaction service. You don’t like their fees stop using them.

    Unions are leeches. If their members don’t like them they can’t “opt out” and they don’t get to say where THEIR money goes. Taxation without representation is the issue people died to fight against. That Union slugs have persistently hid their treachery better in the last few decades doesn’t make them right or acceptable.

    Now these vampires are beginning to face the bright light of day. No wonder they moan!

  • John McNay

    No more complaints about unions working to defend themselves until you always begin to cite at the same time the political machinations of those in corporate board rooms. Everyone needs to remember that every union has a democratic process in place where people get elected to the offices they hold. They are then responsible to their members and, as in our democracy, majority rules. This is in sharp contrast to the corporate pirates and banksters who are responsible to no one, have no democratic process, and the workers who create their wealth have not chance to stop them from funding issues and politicians that are harmful to them. And don’t give me any nonsese about being responsible to stockholders. Wealthy stock holders are in league with the pirates and banksters. Again the workers who produce wealth for the corporations are just helpless pawns in their games.

    And I must that Mead is a big disappointment to me. I’ve read several of his recent columns and had had no idea that he held such ridiculous ideas.

  • thibaud

    What Nate #29 said.

    If there’s an “80% solution” here, ie a policy platform that can win the support of 80% of registered votes, it’s for reforming the tax code.

    Principle # 1 of a reformed tax code must be to stop punishing work. Increase the rate on capital gains, and lower the marginal hire tax ie payroll taxes.

    Principle #2 should be to reward savings and discourage consumption of junk that Americans don’t need, funded with money they don’t have. So pair a significantly higher top bracket income tax rate with higher consumption taxes – a national VAT is worth considering, provided that the rich pay a significantly higher share as well.

    Principle #3 should be to end the scams by which AAPL and every other US multinational shelters billions in taxable income through offshore vehicles like the notorious “Double Irish” scam.

    Principle #4 is to shut down offshore havens like the ones favored by our GOP candidate, he of the “Cayman Blocker” blame.

  • I basically agree with thibaud’s analysis except I would not use the word “banksters” to denote the moneyed class that bankrolls both political parties and sets the political agenda. I prefer David Cay Johston’s “donor class,” referring roughly to the ten thousand wealthiest families in America. Their agenda is short and negative: don’t mess with our overseas tax havens or tax unearned income at the same rate as earned income, and don’t restrict the mobility of capital and labor across national borders. After Citizens United the power of the teacher’s unions looks pretty pitiful indeed.

  • The reason the wealthy favor tax havens and free mobility of capital of course is that it maximizes their income. That wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t undermine the American standard of living, the solvency of our government, and the health of the republic. They are basically betraying their country for personal interest.

  • When I wrote, “Their agenda is short and negative: don’t mess with our overseas tax havens or tax unearned income at the same rate as earned income, and don’t restrict the mobility of capital and labor across national borders” I should have added, “they don’t care about anything else.”

  • Tony

    Of course corporate and business interests contribute far more to political campaigns and exert far more influence on our politics than worker’s unions. The title of this piece is a lie.

  • Ignatzk

    Nate says: >>Frankly, all working Americans deserve more money and benefits for what they do these days. <<

    This exhibits one of the fundamental problems of the Leftist mindset. It excludes (or simply cannot grasp) the notion of merit.

    Union work rules exist to insure that teachers are not judged on performance. This is what many teachers fear – assessment of their work product, be it their performance or that of their students.

  • Bob Jones

    thibaud says:
    July 13, 2012 at 5:50 pm

    I don’t dispute that public employee unions are a powerful partisan political machine.

    I dispute the emphasis that the other side’s partisans place on this machine.

    It is frankly ridiculous to say that teachers are more consequential, more to blame, for our current plight than the bankers who have nearly destroyed the world’s economy.
    Please. The worst havoc that bankers have managed to wreak on the economy pales in comparison to the unfunded liability of the entitlement state, which is, in part, propped up by public employee unions. I’m not saying that I disagree with Buffet that derivatives and other “innovate” financial products are weapons of financial mass destruction, but they simply can’t compare to the financial devastation of the entitlement state.

  • Jult52

    Nate – I just can’t let your comment pass. By “reform,” I assume you mean “raise”. The US corporate tax rate is now one of the very highest in the world. It also produces a meager fraction of government revenues at both the federal, state and local levels.

    So your idea that raising taxes on corporations is unrealistic and won’t solve government problems. It would obviously also have negative effects on employment, so there would be indirect consequences to both the US economy and government finances.

    I don’t want to be snarky. The attempted solution of raising taxes will not solve the problem it aims to unravel and points to the cul-de-sac that Statism faces today.

  • Francis Godici

    Some of you should take a look at

  • Worry

    Public sector unions are where the real union clout lies today. Unlike unions representing supermarket workers or the non-management employees of other firms, public sector unions normally do not have to deal with competitive pressures. A supermarket chain that fails to offer its customers reasonable prices and decent service will find itself slowly dying away. Unified school districts, police and fire departments, as well as a parks and recreation department seldom faces the prospect of elimination. When there are contractions, it is always the newest employees, regardless of merit, who are the first fired. Chrysler, General Motors, and to a lesser extent Ford faced a similar situation with their bizarre union contracts that included benefit provisions unheard of elsewhere in the manufacturing sector at the time. Chrysler got its second federal bailout
    in less than forty years, while General Motors got its first. In short, two of the three largest automanufacturers in the United States were partially nationalized. It was union clout that prevented those two truly bankrupt businesses from seeking bankruptcy protection from the courts in a normal way. We are now seeing a similar situation with municipalities that promised their public sector unions pensions and other benefits that were entirely beyond their means to make good on in the long run. In fact, as more and more municipalities seek bankruptcy protection, public sector retirees may find themselves stuck with arbitrary pension reductions and the elimination of all non-pension benefits they have acrued from their previous employment. The impoverished retiree may ask why his own union pushed for benefit packages that clearly undermined the pubilc sector employer’s capacity to service its current obligations to retirees. That question will come up more and more.

  • Michael G. Conroy

    I am always amused by articles like this. You would think that teachers (no apostrophe by the way—adjectival noun, not possessive) unions are the Teamsters or the UAW, breaking the legs of school board members to get what they want.

    Walter Sobchak: Nixon is probably not the best example to make your point.

    Jacksonian Libertarian: just wait until those folks who left the union see what their overlords give them in salary now that no one is bargaining on their behalf.

  • Pave Low John

    During a press conference, here is a small part what FDR had to say about public union wages, hours and collective bargaining:

    Q But on the question of wages and hours, what latitude do the workers have since the amount is fixed by Congress?

    THE PRESIDENT: It is up to the Congress. Congress lays down the method today of fixing compensation and always has.

    Q Then, in other words, you would not have the representatives of the majority as the sole bargaining agents?

    PRESIDENT: Not in the Government, because there is no collective contract. It is a very different case. There isn1 t any bargaining, in other words, with the Government, therefore the question does not arise.

    -Press Conference, July 9th 1937 as posted on the website for the FDR Presidential Library and Museum

    So, if the patron saint of liberal democrats had a problem with public unions setting up a collective bargaining agreement with the government, sounds to me like it is probably a bad idea that needs to be fixed ASAP.

  • Albert_II

    Why is it that unionized workers, when given the choice of paying, or not paying, union dues, quit paying?
    Seems that they, not the Republicans, are the ones who care not for unionism.

  • Anthony

    @5, Richard Treitel you note three societal realities and I agree.

    However, my position or proffer has assumed Constitutional structure, distracted society, and religious impulses; furher, social arrangements are instituted by people (citizens) of a country/nation – human life is less an affair of institutions and systems than of people and an interplay of motivations and abilities.

    To concede that people have choices under the rule of external freedom does not preclude or make improbable another way (inventive Americans can find a way) vis-a-vis money-union-special interests-politics trap. To think otherwise may imply that the democratic system in the United States has become a parody of itself on the governmental level (and if that’s the case why search for remedies). Thanks for the perspective.

  • Patricia

    You don’t need a right-to-work law to stop this; you need to stop mandatory deductions for dues. We sued our PEU in the late ’80s b/c after Brown’s fair share law kicked in we were paying 6% of our income to the union (and thus to the Dems and their affiliate unions and NGOs). The federal judge then negotiated a settlement whereby our dues were cut by 80%–that’s how much went to campaigns.

    An initiative to make the dues voluntary might even win in CA.

  • CatoRenasci

    Public employee unions are a cancer on the body politic and are a conspiracy against the public interest.

    Absolutely no good whatsoever to the public has come out of them — though they have done well for their members — and they should be abolished.

    As Calvin Coolidge put it in 1919: “There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time.”

  • RKV

    Here’s some data about who donates what to politicians. Data says WRM is right and Nate [is not]. Do the math for yourself.

  • Knowing all this, why would anyone let these people within 50 feet of their children, let alone send their children off to be indoctrinated by them?

    [excessively strong analogy deleted in the interests of comity – ed].

  • Thibaud,

    Look into how the “banksters” are dialed into public ed through municipal loan churning for unneeded building projects that cost 3X over comparable commercial building costs.

    I’m 100% with you on the source of the problem. The “bankster” class has found a way to monetize and securitize every revenue stream in the nation (property taxes, student loans, mortgages, etc.)

    They then purchase the politicians to pass legislation that benefits those who monetize and securitize those streams.

    Cap and Trade, another “conservative/libertarian” idea gone bad, is one example where the stupidity was stopped before the “banksters” could create another tranche of derivative paper to profit from before it collapsed.

    If we righties could agree with lefties and centrists on one issue, it might be that the “banksters” are the equivalent of those old “Star Trek” entities that live off of hate, and balance left and right so they win no matter who is in power.

    But I digress…I guess the point is that there is closer nexus between the “banksters” and the unions than you might think.

    Lastly, any issue with the “banksters” should be completely independent of breaking public unions, which is a robust policy independent of any other.

    It’s the right thing to do.

  • Jim.


    Corporate tax rates are already higher here than in the rest of the world. Do you mean “reform” like the Democrats mean “reform”, which means “raise”? Or do you mean “reform” like Republicans mean “reform, which means “cut”?

    I’m not sure either one will do us much good, long-run. Stability is probably a better idea, although modest cuts to make sure we don’t lose business to other countries might help.

  • Occam’s Beard

    “This year the unions will be outspent by the billionaires club more than ten fold.”

    But the billionaires and the uber-wealthy – Soros, Buffett, Geffen, the Pritzkers, Theresa Heinz Kerry, Ron Burkle, Barbra Streisand, various Hollywood scum, et al. – are generally on the SAME SIDE as the unions.

    Also, look up, which compiles Federal Election Commission submissions. The top ten donors in Presidential campaigns? All unions, all donating exclusively to Democrats. Where does Wall Street donate its money? Primarily to Democrats (e.g., Goldman Sachs donates 3:1 to Democrats).

    So this leftist fantasy about billionaires and Wall Street favoring Republicans is just that.

    You probably will dispute this assertion, but check

  • Joe

    This is why the number one priority of conservatives should be to enact real reductions in the size and power of the federal government. This includes massively simplifying the tax code including, I strongly believe, getting rid of non-profits.

    Without, for example, a federal department of education, the dollars and “influence” must flow to the states. Some states will continue to be trapped, so to speak, by the unions, but others will be freed and THAT is the point of federalism–to whit, not that there is uniformity amongst the states, but that there isn’t.

  • thibaud

    From Open Secrets: their tallies don’t always add up, but in at least one of their data summaries they show two four organizations as having donated over $30m in this cycle: the AFL-CIO, The National Rifle Association, The National Association of Realtors, and Mr. Mead’s whipping boy, the NEA.

    Last I checked, two of these four mega-donors tilted Republican. It would be hard to argue that any of these four, whatever their merits, has not also had a malign influence on our policy over the years. The realtors alone continue to hoard data in a way that is without question anti-competitive and that results in American homesellers (and indirectly, homebuyers) being cheated out of a tens of billions of dollars each year.

    Ah, but the teachers are the cause of all our ills.

    Speaking of mega-donors, here’s another list from – this one is the result of that latest innovation in US politics, the one that draws nary a peep from the GOP or its fanboys, the Super Pac “soft money” device by which our oligarchs influence elections with 8-figure sums.

    Top Overall Individual Contributors

    These are the individuals who have contributed the most money overall during this election cycle. “Hard Money” includes donations to federal candidates, parties and PACs. “Soft Money” includes contributions to outside groups that disclose their donors, including super PACs and all 527 organizations.

    Rank / Contributor Total Contributions + Party/Ideology

    1 Adelson, Sheldon G. & Miriam O.
    Las Vegas Sands, Las Vegas, NV

    $25,313,400 to GOP/Conservatives

    2 Simmons, Harold C. & Annette C.
    Contran Corp, Dallas, TX

    $15,394,900 to GOP/Cons

    3 Perry, Bob J. & Doylene
    Perry Homes, Houston, TX

    $7,157,200 to GOP/Cons

    4 Thiel, Peter A.
    San Francisco, CA

    $3,767,200 to GOP/Libertarian Republic of Mars

    5 Perenchio, A. Jerrold & Margaret
    Chartwell Partners, Los Angeles, CA

    $2,735,800 to GOP/Cons

    6 Friess, Foster S. & Lynette
    Friess Assoc, Jackson, WY

    $2,658,900 to GOP/Cons

    7 Katzenberg, Jeffrey & Marilyn
    Dreamworks Animation SKG, Los Angeles, CA

    $2,308,100 to Dems/Libs

    8 Goldman, Amy
    Sol Goldman Investments, New York, NY

    $2,297,540 to Dems/Libs

    9 Griffin, Kenneth C. & Anne D.
    Citadel Invest Group/Aragon Global Mgmt, Chicago, IL

    $2,259,000 to GOP/Cons

    10 Dore, William J. & Kay
    Dore Energy, Lake Charles, LA

    $2,267,000 to GOP/Cons

    TOTAL – Top 10 individual SuperPac/527 contributors:

    GOP – 8 out of 10, total of $60 million
    Dems – 2 out of ten, total of $4.6 million

  • thibaud

    Bruno – it’s really a stretch to say that the teachers and the banksters have some kind of symbiotic relationship.

    The first thing that any 2-and-20 hedgefund scammer does when he scores a big year – never mind the down years when he loses half of his investors’ money; we’re just focusing on the up years – is set up a foundation to back today’s rich man’s preferred hobbyhorse, a charter school.

    For the most part, the hedgefunders loathe the teachers, and the feeling is mutual.

    Again, this is not to justify piggish behavior by public sector union leaders.

    The point here is that it’s simply ludicrous to suggest that the damage they do is anywhere near the scale of the trillions upon trillions in damage wrought by the corrupt system our financial oligarchs and their politico enablers have saddled us with.

  • Let’s look at the breakdown in terms of the amount of money spent on direct contributions and lobbying, shall we?

    “In terms of direct contributions to candidates, business groups have given about $618 million to Republican candidates since 2000, on top of another $31 million to GOPers from ideological groups, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Labor groups, meanwhile, have given under $35 million to Democrats over that same time period. “Whatever slice you look at, business interests dominate, with an overall advantage over organized labor of about 15-to-1,” the Center notes, though business groups divide their giving between Republicans and Democrats, while labor focuses almost entirely on Democrats. In terms of lobbying, labor groups are again hopelessly outspent. Together, they have collectively spent about $502 million on lobbying since 1998 — less than 11 separate business sectors spent individually. Each of those sectors, including defense and healthcare, have each spent between $1 and 5 billion.

    It’s always funny when the same people who think money is speech and corporations are people are suddenly aghast when labor unions spend money to support their own political interests.

  • thibaud

    Mitt Romney’s corporation was indeed a person – one person, the man who says he didn’t run the corporation despite telling the SEC that he was its Chief Executive Officer.

    Very logical. “Your winnings, sir.” “Thank you!”

  • teapartydoc

    Thibaud may as well go talk to the wall. I’m a property owner. Internationally. Where my taxes have gone up is everywhere that there is a strong teacher’s union. In one place the taxes doubled because the county was at risk of going broke if it didn’t because of unrealistic pension problems. I will never invest in that county again. The teachers there gained at the expense of everyone else (by the way, the property I own there in not salable now precisely because of the taxes, so I’m stuck with it, if this pattern is repeated in enough places making it difficult to own without the ability to capitalize on investment, people will start to walk away. Sure, the locals get their homestead exemptions, but property values will plummet, and the locals won’t want to pay on stuff without prospect of a return, either). Go back and re-read your silly little proposals. They are just plain stupid and won’t work in the real world. And try growing up a little.

  • Tom Perkins

    @ thibaud

    “Is the NEA more consequential than a corrupt and tottering financial sector that cratered the global economy?”

    The financial sector didn’t crater the economy. Government by intervening to produce “politically correct” mortgages and by promising to underwrite losses did. It still, by calling financial institutions too big to fail, prevents the market from clearing those losses by forcing the institutions involved from realizing them.

    What you complain of is the result of the Democratic Party successes in influencing over the market by setting government policy.

  • Tom Perkins

    “Mitt Romney’s corporation was indeed a person – one person, the man who says he didn’t run the corporation despite telling the SEC that he was its Chief Executive Officer.”

    Mitt was the CEO and in fact ran the one corporation, the whole assets of which was his pension.

    He was not running Bain Capital, the venture cap firm. And he never claimed to be running that.

    It’s not at all that he lied or misled anyone in any way, it’s that you believe the lies of people who want to mislead you.

  • Tom Perkins

    Right to work laws are required. The worker must always be able to fire the union, it’s the only way to keep them even slightly honest.

  • thibaud

    Keep on a-spinnin’, Tom. Keep quibbling about what the definition of is is. The point is that Romney’s argument, that he bears zero responsibility for Bain’s actions post-1999, doesn’t pass the smell test.

    What may get someone off in a court of law will not suffice when the test is a person’s ability and willingness to step up to the responsibilities of a presidency.

    This is exactly the kind of ludicrous weaseling that we’ve come to expect from the man. His right-wing opponents in the GOP called him again and again on this pattern of fibbing and weaseling, and now his opponent from the other side will call him on it.

    We have never in our history elected a financial engineer with a history of gaming the tax code to generate the majority of his returns.

    Spin all you want, but Romney is the worst candidate the GOP could have picked this year.

    Except all the others.

  • thibaud

    Hey doc – the tax proposals I mentioned are national ones, not local. Zip to do with property taxes or local school funding.

    Other than that, your screed was a fine effort, with admirable sound and fury.

    Have a great day,

  • teapartydoc

    Capital gains is a property tax, Thibaud, you [person with whom the commenter disagrees].

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