Union Bashing Rehashing

February 20th, 2011

Another entry in our Wisconsin protest series…  (If you don’t like political poetry, skip the poem and just read the essay below, and be sure to sign the petition below protesting the Wisconsin GOP union-bashing plan.)

Right-wingers hate unions,

And government even more,

So say “government union”

And they’re ready to go to war.

Private sector bosses rarely act

For a dogmatic non-business reason,

But for public sector workers

It’s always open season.

Far right-wing extremists

Don’t care what’s logical.

They just want to pursue

Their agendas ideological.

That’s why unions

Though always of use

Are even more necessary in government

To prevent employee abuse.

Right-wingers, of course,

Think unions are the problem,

And blame them (and government itself)

For states’ current budget problem.

But can you blame workers

For trying to get the best wages and benefits they can?

Doesn’t acting like that

Make them more Republican?

What about the many times

Big Business went overboard?

Should capitalism because of that

Be thrown over board?

I’m not saying that unions

Don’t sometimes go too far.

They’re not always right,

But this time,

they are.


Right-wingers claim that unions aren’t necessary in the public sector, or that they’re even more harmful if the public sector than in the private. Of course, this claim (generally made by Republicans) masks general opposition to unions and all they stand for, so it must be taken with a grain of salt. But even accepting the claim at its face value, I would argue that the opposite is true: unions are even more necessary in the public sector than they are in the private sector.

Here’s my reasoning. In the private sector, management and shareholders rarely act for ideological reasons. The act in their own interest of maximizing shareholder profits (as well as management salaries, of course). It’s inconceivable that a profitable company getting the best possible workers for the best possible price would fire those workers, or shut down its operations.

Yet this is exactly what happens with Republicans and the public sector. While periodically arguing that public sector workers are lazy or overpaid, the thrust of the right-wing antipathy towards government workers and their unions is that they work for the government. If government waste, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness were their true concern, Republicans would focus on government reform, but that’s been almost exclusively a Democratic initiative. Instead of doing those things, anti-government Republicans have pushed to shut down programs they dislike, institute across-the-board pay cuts and hiring freezes, and even shut down the government as a whole.

Right-wing ideologues also constantly carp that the very idea of unions goes against free market principles, and that they should therefore be opposed (or even eliminated) whenever possible. What could be more free market than allowing one side of a negotiation (workers) to join together in order to share information and increase its bargaining power vis-à-vis Management? Thus, given their a priori opposition to unions, regardless of the reasonableness of their positions and the quality of the work they’re doing, Republican office-holders are more in need of a strong countervailing force on the other side of the bargaining table. The situation in Wisconsin is a good example of this. Even though the unions have agreed to Governor Walker’s financial demands, he is refusing to compromise on anything short of eliminating the unions’ right to collective bargaining.

Ironically, while right-wingers claim to honor free market principles, it is the very lack of these principles’ applicability within the public sector that argues even more strongly than in the private sector for strong employee unions. In the private sector, mangers are subject to market discipline. In the public sector, elections substitute for that discipline, but imperfectly, since they take only place every few years, involve many other issues than government management, and are strongly influenced by fixed beliefs that don’t respond to changes in reality. In business, if you do that, you go out of business. In politics, if you do that, you get re-elected. In government, it often takes a staggering amount of mismanagement to lose an election (viz. George Bush in 2004).

Yes, the lack of immediate accountability sometimes leads to abuses in the other (i.e., Democratic) direction, with politicians cutting sweetheart deals with unions that support them politically and financially, as is also often the case with Republicans and Big Business. But the former excesses are best dealt with not be eliminating or emasculating unions, but by negotiating with them more carefully and conscientiously to maximize government cost-effectiveness. Both Democrats and Republicans are capable of doing that—just not rabid anti-government Republicans.

They, after all, don’t want to improve government. They just want to eliminate it. 

And its unions.

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