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Posted at 6:39 PM ET, 02/22/2011

Kevorkianism in Wisconsin

By Harold Meyerson

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.

By Harold Meyerson  | February 22, 2011; 6:39 PM ET
Categories:  Meyerson  | Tags:  Harold Meyerson  
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The Wisconsin public sector unions put themselves out of business when they started accepting bogus sick notes on video.

Posted by: jy151310 | February 22, 2011 7:32 PM | Report abuse

I agree with your article and add only that it misses the following:

(1) it was easy for corporations to get rid of private sector unions (who helped create public sector unions) as they simply did so by outsourcing the jobs, in addition to union busting or preventing union organizing (think Walmart);

(2) many, if not the majority of public employees pay or paid into their pensions, only to have states "loan" against those pensions (see New Jersey for one), and fail to repay those loans or fail to meet their end of the pension obligations; and

(3) workers in many states, including NY, have had their wages "frozen" or received 0% raises in many prior years, in an effort to help the states (as negotiated through collective bargaining).

Of course, you must also add the financial meltdown of wall street and the "pay to play" handling of pensions by politicians to the mix--resulting in the unfunded or underfunded pensions.

That is the "contract with america" the republicans offer(ed) workers in this country. Their attempt to scapegoat workers for the acts of politicians, pension "raiding" (loans by states from the pension funds) and wall street losses must be stopped dead in its tracks.

Posted by: louisegertrude | February 22, 2011 7:43 PM | Report abuse

In an effort to sway opinion to his way of thinking, Meyerson misses the biggest point of all. I didn't read about an effort to kill the union...i only read that the new law would make paying union dues optional. Members who see the benefit of representation of the union should have no problem continuing the payment of dues...which will keep the union relevant and strong. If you need a state law that you MUST PAY UNION DUES to work at a state job, what message does that send and why would an supposedly impartial government allow such a one sided injustice. Let the union stand on it's merits, not on some law written by political hacks looking for their backs to be scratched. Enough is enough.

Posted by: bigeee1 | February 22, 2011 7:47 PM | Report abuse

In a move reminiscent of Poland under martial law in the early 1980s, Wisconsin's "General" Walker and other power-hungry Republicans in the Wisconsin state legislature (and their party brethren across the country), are attempting to unilaterally decree that henceforth virtually all public union activity will be controlled by the authoritarian state. Walker has even said that he may need to call in the National Guard. And the Teabagger droolers (Federalist etc) support this statist takeover? What a bunch hypocritical slack jawed yokels.

This is the same governor (Walker) who has lied about the state budget crisis, claiming erroneously that the salaries and benefits of public workers are to blame. When in actuality, the governor's tax cut for the RICH program (according to Wisconsin's nonpartisan state budget office) was what turned a budget surplus into a budget deficit this year.

This is the same governor who is engaging in blatant political favoritism and cronyism, by pledging to maintain the collective bargaining rights of the public unions who supported him in the last election (police, firefighters). Meanwhile, the rights of teachers, correction officers, social workers, and other public professionals are being attacked by Walker. Obviously, he's targeting their right to engage in collective bargaining, as a form of political payback for opposing him in the last election.

This is a clear statist attempt to destroy the more Democratic leaning unions, while protecting the more "conservative,right wing" big dollar interest groups and other funding sources for Governor Walker and his like-minded authoritarian peers in the G.O.P. across the country.

I hope more and more states join in. This is the start of something big.

The Thug Republican party is going to learn the hard way what real grassroots protests look like (unlike their astroturfed Teabagger shout-fests that are bankrolled by right wing oil billionaires i.e. the Koch Bros).

2012 is going to be payback time for the Dictator wannabe Republican party, big-time.


Posted by: DrainYou | February 22, 2011 8:06 PM | Report abuse

Sociology 101, An organization objective is to perpetuate their own existence.

Unions have every right to exist, but I don't have to collect their dues. I don't have to let them negotiate with themselves for salary and benefits.

If a teacher wants to pay $100/month for the union that's fine. If they want to blow it on the Democrats its fine. If they want to use it to fight spending cuts that's fine. If they want to use it to politic for tax increases that's fine.

But don't say I'm not within my rights to disagree.

Posted by: flyover22 | February 22, 2011 9:56 PM | Report abuse

Harold, you should call Chuck out on his grotesque use of Gabby Giffords in a recent post on this.

Posted by: DougJ3 | February 22, 2011 10:23 PM | Report abuse

I just read in the Wisconsin Journal that if Gov Mubarak rams the bill thru & strips union employees of their rights, 24 unions have already voted yes for a General Strike. Maybe it'll help educate Mr. Lane & the rest of the Goopers about how important union employees are to him with his selfish self.

Posted by: carolerae48 | February 22, 2011 11:55 PM | Report abuse

So you think comparing people with terminal illnesses, faced with months or years of pain and suffering (and cost) is the same as people who have to pay $17 per month for great health care.
One thing this whole thing has revealed: apparently the terrible two tantrums can happen for the rest of your life if your a liberal. Gotta go drum up some votes my friend; that's how we roll here. Or, you could move to Libya.

Posted by: dcjayhawk2 | February 23, 2011 6:19 AM | Report abuse

Right on, Harold!

Posted by: catbird500 | February 23, 2011 7:54 AM | Report abuse

Posted at 6:39 PM ET, 02/22/2011
Kevorkianism in Wisconsin
By Harold Meyerson

"...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."

Well thank you Dr. Harold Kevorkian, you really got us interested in Mr. Lane's Journalistic Excellence, what a contrast to the Bat-Crat you usually trowel out. So what advice would you give yourself, given your apparent further decent into the ABMSNBDNCNNPBSR Public-Private, Government-Media Complex @ the moveon.ogre belfry sewer that has given all the President's Mice, upside down glasses that keeps them seeing, hearing, saying, and doing just what the you Kevorkians of the Old World (oderous) Order want them to hear, say, do, and post?

Yeah, Wright on!

Posted by: RichNomore | February 23, 2011 8:42 AM | Report abuse

louisegertrude has it exactly right. I work for the state, and have for over 32 years. During the Bush years I received not one raise, until just before 9-11, which the state promptly took back. During the most current recession, I have not had a raise in 2 years now. In fact, I’ve had to take leave without pay 1 day a month for 2 years now. My health insurance has tripled (so far), and I am the only one that pays into my retirement (the state is supposed to match it upon my retirement only, although I cannot retire for another 12 years) I don’t know about other states, but Washington State has been messing with our retirement money for years (beginning when the GOP was in office). Traditionally, Washington State has underpaid its employees, claiming that providing healthcare made up for the difference, so don’t tell me that state employees are overpaid. Every time some financial thing happens to the state they cut the wages of the state employees – every time. I don’t get paid overtime and I don’t get compensation time. If I have to use my car for work-related activities I do not get reimbursed for mileage. I’m a Wisconsin girl born, and still one at heart, and I definitely support the people in Wisconsin.

Posted by: julieforBarack | February 23, 2011 12:15 PM | Report abuse

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