Friday, March 4, 2011

On Public Sector Unions...

Peggy Noonan, in today's WSJ:
Unions have been respected in America forever, and public employee unions have reaped that respect. There are two great reasons for this. One is that unions always stood for the little guy. The other is that Americans like balance. We have management over here and the union over here, they'll talk and find balance, it'll turn out fine.

But with the public employee unions, the balance has been off for decades. And when they lost their balance they fell off their pedestal.

When union leaders negotiate with a politician, they're negotiating with someone they can hire and fire. Public unions have numbers and money, and politicians need both. And politicians fear strikes because the public hates them. When governors negotiate with unions, it's not collective bargaining, it's more like collusion. Someone said last week the taxpayers aren't at the table. The taxpayers aren't even in the room.

As for unions looking out for the little guy, that's not how it's looking right now. Right now the little guy is the public school pupil whose daily rounds take him from a neglectful family to an indifferent teacher who can't be removed. The little guy is the beleaguered administrator whose attempts at improvement are thwarted by unions. The little guy is the private-sector worker who doesn't have a good health-care plan, who barely has a pension, who lacks job security, and who is paying everyone else's bills.
It's been a long time since I had positive feelings about unions in general; I think they've long outlived their original worthy purpose and have become more a drag on progress and on the economy than any possible benefit could justify.  Public sector unions have seemed wrong to me from their very beginnings in the early '60s. 

I remember a high-school history teacher (can't remember his name) – in 10th grade, I think.  He was a recently returned Vietnam War veteran,  one of the first wave of Kennedy's “advisors”.  He was deeply offended by the unionization of federal employees (something that Kennedy approved), and saw it as a betrayal of the values he fought for in Vietnam.  His passionate lecture on that subject, over 40 years ago, is still a clear memory.  His reasons for opposing public sector unions are the same reasons opponents use today, most emphatically the unholy alliance that Noonan refers to in this column (third paragraph above).  

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