Kevorkianism in Wisconsin
In a blog post Monday, the indefatigable Chuck Lane expressed disappointment that Wisconsin's public-sector unions were missing the opportunity to put themselves out of business. What they really should do, he argued, is kill themselves.
Lane noted that the unions had agreed to accept the budget cuts that Republican Gov. Scott Walker had sought. But, like Walker, he argued that that misses the point, which is to end collective bargaining for the state's public employees. In agreeing to take the cut but hang on to the right to bargain, Lane continued, "Wisconsin's union leaders have revealed their preference for political power. They want to preserve collective bargaining at all costs, because without it they will lose the flow of dues money. And without dues money, the unions have no political war chests, and without political war chests, they are no longer power brokers in state and local elections."
"If they had the interests of their membership at heart," Chuck wrote, "they can give in on bargaining rights, which can always be restored under a friendlier government later -- but keep maximum cash in their members' pockets here and now."
Lane seems to think the elimination of public-sector unions from the Wisconsin political landscape will right the balance on a host of issues. It will certainly alter the balance. As public-sector unions are the most effective organizations in boosting minority turnout during elections, and in moving working-class white voters into the Democratic column, their disappearance will give Wisconsin a whiter, more conservative electorate. And as unions are the leading force behind not just workplace-related legislation but also virtually every element of the progressive agenda -- civil rights, environmental reform, infrastructure development, financial regulation, consumer protection, and on and on -- their abrupt absence from the political process would push Wisconsin towards opposition to those and kindred causes.
Private-sector unions would still be around to get out the vote in election season and to lobby, but after three decades of entrenched employer opposition to those unions, they tend to be smaller and less effective than their public-sector counterparts.
Moreover, the removal of public-sector unions from politics would come at a time of almost unprecedented corporate power in the political process. The Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which permitted corporations to spend their treasuries on election campaigns, unleashed a torrent of corporate money at the national, state and local level in the 2010 election. Under these conditions, taking half the union movement off the playing field (and public-sector workers now constitute a little more than half the unionized workers in the U.S.) tilts the field even more steeply in corporations' favor.
So eliminating these unions from Wisconsin politics would have consequences that I presume go well beyond those that Lane would favor. And his blithe assertion that unions could always regain their rights "under a friendlier government later" is belied both by the difficulties working people have always had in winning their rights in America, and the fact that "disappearing" those unions now will reshape the electorate in ways that will make it harder for a "friendlier" government to reappear later.
In short, Lane's advice to unions is analogous to Dr. Kevorkian's advice to some of his terminally ill patients. Though that's probably unfair to Kevorkian, who I don't believe actually recommended suicide to those patients who weren't already suicidally inclined.
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