State of the Unions
UK Goes Scott Walker

No longer bound by the constraints of coalition government, the British Conservatives are embracing their inner Scott Walker. The Guardian reports:

Up to 3.8 million public sector workers will lose the right to have their trade union subscriptions automatically deducted from their pay cheques after the government announced plans to end the “outdated practice”.[…]

Under the proposals, it is claimed that administrative costs will be saved in the public sector as 3.8 million trade union members – 54% of the public sector workforce – are told to make their own arrangements to pay their union subscription, mainly by direct debit. Unions say this will lead to a loss in funds by making subscription payments more complicated.

Of course, the Conservative proposal to end automatic dues collection in the UK may seem somewhat small bore; it isn’t, at least, as dramatic as what Gov. Walker has done in Wisconsin. But the Conservatives aren’t just trying to roll back government-enforced dues collection; they are also pursuing other union reform proposals:

Union leaders will say that the change is another example of the government’s hostile approach to their movement after the publication of the trade union bill earlier this month, which included plans to criminalise picketing and to raise the threshold in a strike ballot by requiring that at least 40% of those asked to vote support the strike in key public services.

The UK is not exactly a bastion of right-wingery. As a hoary political joke has it: In the UK, they have two parties—the Labour Party, which we in the U.S. would call the Socialist Party, and the Conservative Party, which we in the U.S. would also call the Socialist Party. And in the American context, Wisconsin is not a particularly right-wing state. Why are unions not getting their way in these places?

The answer is not, pace the wailings of Richard Trumka, a labor leader and Scott Walker critic, that Gov. Walker is some unique right-wing monster—and the same holds true for British PM David Cameron. As Richard Aldous pointed out in a must-read essay yesterday, the British voters reelected Cameron because of, not despite, his austerity and reform agenda; likewise, Wisconsin voters chose three times to keep Scott Walker in office.

To the moderate voter, it seems faintly ludicrous that public sector unions, alone of all political advocacy groups, are entitled to government-enforced dues collection. And then, that voter opens the London papers and sees that unionized public sector workers such as London’s tube drivers, who make far more than that same average voter, are going to strike for the second and third time this month over issues that have nothing to do with safety, job security, or any of the supposed traditional arguments for unionization. (The rural-American equivalent would be a school strike in a Wisconsin town over pension and health contribution levels that the average voter can only dream of.)

The waning of the blue model isn’t just an American phenomenon. The inability of Western countries to support and pay for lavish public sector pensions and benefits is becoming more apparent. Voters are giving politicians on both sides of the pond a mandate to do some remodeling.

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