Greece, Not Egypt

Demonstrators in Madison Wisconsin are eerily similar to recent protests abroad. The public employees holding signs and chanting slogans outside the state capital seem to recognize a parallel. One protester's sign, referring to newly elected Governor Scott Walker, read "Walker: the Mubarak of the Midwest." A second sign displayed a photo of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on one side with the words, "One dictator down." When the protester rotated the sign, it revealed a picture of Governor Walker and the words, "One dictator to go." 

Clearly the Mob in Madison sees themselves as a reincarnation of the Crowd in Cairo. Not the reporter-raping part of the Egyptian protesters of course, but rather the dedicated, Jeffersonian, small 'd' democrats that we all hope (but aren't really sure) exist in Egypt. The public employees' desire to align themselves with the angels notwithstanding, their protest is more Greece than Egypt.

It wasn't very long ago that Greece's streets were filled with government employees running amok over the EU-forced austerity measures.  Many conservatives predicted that the unrest was a look at America's future in ten years. As it turns out, it only took ten months.

This time Wisconsin is set to pass "austerity" measures. Fiscal necessity has forced the governor and state lawmakers to do what politics has prevented for decades -- stand up to public sector unions. As in Greece, the Badger state's employees aren't about to cede the ground.

"This is not about protecting our pay and our benefits," Wisconsin Education Association Council President Mary Bell assures us. "It is about protecting our right to collectively bargain." Bell did not expound on exactly what they want to bargain for if not pay and benefits.

The problem isn't collective bargaining itself, but how we define "collective." A union is really nothing more than a corporation that provides labor. Governor Walker and other conservatives certainly have no problem with corporations, except when that corporation operates a monopoly. Therein lies the problem with unions -- not that they exist, or even that they are essentially liberal political organizations that do some employee representation on the side. What makes unions so dangerous and often harmful is that the law allows them to wield monopoly power.

The most hazardous monopoly of all is one that receives taxpayer support. When the United Auto Workers union successfully pushed member compensation up to and astronomical $73.20 per hour, consumers had the recourse of buying from less costly foreign automakers (Toyota: $48.00 per hour). When a government union, such as the National Education Association, makes state services more expensive than their market value, there are no competitors to expose how wasteful and impractical it actually is. Moreover, even if expensive UAW cars were the only cars available, as we could at least ride a bike instead of driving. Not so with government workers. Between property, sales, income, vehicle, and a seemingly endless array of other taxes, we can't stop paying state employee unions. We are forced consumers of state services.

Story after story in local and national news asserts that Governor Walker is trying to take away union rights. But do unions have the right to operate a monopoly whose product, by law, cannot be refused? It is the rights of non-union tax-payers that are under far greater threat under the current collective bargaining rules. Walker's proposal is a simple check on a monopolistic organization than is bankrupting his state.

But it's not as simple as checking a group with too much power. For decades unions have been a cause rather than a mere economic entity. Many believe that pro-union laws passed under Franklin Roosevelt created the American middle-class and brought the common man out from under the thumb of cruel robber barons. But that reading of history is more political spin than fact.

Roughly 150 years before Roosevelt signed the union-promoting Wagoner Act, Benjamin Franklin composed a pamphlet that encouraged Europeans to immigrate to the newly freed colonies. Franklin wrote that "nowhere else in the world are the laboring poor so well fed, well lodged, well clothed and well paid as the United States of America." In other words, the middle class was not created by unions in the 1930s but through laissez faire capitalism beginning as early as the 1700s.

Collective bargaining certainly increased the wages of union members, particularly in the 1940s and 50s, the union heyday. The success of unions during those decades was partially due to the fact that most of the industrialized world had just blown itself to smithereens in World War II. A lack of international competition allowed private American unions to continually bargain for higher salaries. Once Europe and Japan rebuilt their industrial base, American labor was exposed as overpriced, causing many industries to move to other countries.

Public sector unions, however, can't be outdone by foreign competition. To maintain heavy influence over their members' wages and benefits, today's government employee unions need only to preserve advantageous collective bargaining laws. Thus the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees became the biggest independent campaign spender in the 2010 elections (not the Koch brothers, Karl Rove's PAC or any other right-wing group). AFSCME dropped an eye-popping $87.5 million, all to help Democrats get re-elected. It's no wonder that Organizing for America and other Democrat groups are rallying to the aid of Wisconsin's public sector unions. When asked about the situation in Madison, President Obama responded, "I think it's also important to recognize that public employees make enormous contributions to the well-being of our states and our cities." He could easily have said that public employees make "enormous contributions" to him and his political allies.

And so the Democrats are dependent on Big Labor and Big Labor is dependent on the Democrats. Such dependency has consequences. Unions rally in Madison in hopes to avoid a world without the scales heavily tipped in their favor. It is a behavior that says without an unfair advantage, granted by the state, the union-ites cannot function. President Grover Cleveland said such "paternal care on the part of the government weakens our national character." So it was with Greece, so it is in Wisconsin and around the country.

That weakening of character could not be better exemplified than by the 14 Democrat state senators who fled the state before the budget vote. If there is an example of prolonged adolescence and a disconnect between what we want to be real and what is real, it is 14 elected officials running to an out-of-state resort instead of making their case before the senate like adults.

Outside the partially empty senate chamber, one protester held up a sign that declared, "Egypt showed us the way."  No. Greece showed us the way -- the way we should avoid. America still has time to choose. Which path will we take?
Demonstrators in Madison Wisconsin are eerily similar to recent protests abroad. The public employees holding signs and chanting slogans outside the state capital seem to recognize a parallel. One protester's sign, referring to newly elected Governor Scott Walker, read "Walker: the Mubarak of the Midwest." A second sign displayed a photo of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on one side with the words, "One dictator down." When the protester rotated the sign, it revealed a picture of Governor Walker and the words, "One dictator to go." 

Clearly the Mob in Madison sees themselves as a reincarnation of the Crowd in Cairo. Not the reporter-raping part of the Egyptian protesters of course, but rather the dedicated, Jeffersonian, small 'd' democrats that we all hope (but aren't really sure) exist in Egypt. The public employees' desire to align themselves with the angels notwithstanding, their protest is more Greece than Egypt.

It wasn't very long ago that Greece's streets were filled with government employees running amok over the EU-forced austerity measures.  Many conservatives predicted that the unrest was a look at America's future in ten years. As it turns out, it only took ten months.

This time Wisconsin is set to pass "austerity" measures. Fiscal necessity has forced the governor and state lawmakers to do what politics has prevented for decades -- stand up to public sector unions. As in Greece, the Badger state's employees aren't about to cede the ground.

"This is not about protecting our pay and our benefits," Wisconsin Education Association Council President Mary Bell assures us. "It is about protecting our right to collectively bargain." Bell did not expound on exactly what they want to bargain for if not pay and benefits.

The problem isn't collective bargaining itself, but how we define "collective." A union is really nothing more than a corporation that provides labor. Governor Walker and other conservatives certainly have no problem with corporations, except when that corporation operates a monopoly. Therein lies the problem with unions -- not that they exist, or even that they are essentially liberal political organizations that do some employee representation on the side. What makes unions so dangerous and often harmful is that the law allows them to wield monopoly power.

The most hazardous monopoly of all is one that receives taxpayer support. When the United Auto Workers union successfully pushed member compensation up to and astronomical $73.20 per hour, consumers had the recourse of buying from less costly foreign automakers (Toyota: $48.00 per hour). When a government union, such as the National Education Association, makes state services more expensive than their market value, there are no competitors to expose how wasteful and impractical it actually is. Moreover, even if expensive UAW cars were the only cars available, as we could at least ride a bike instead of driving. Not so with government workers. Between property, sales, income, vehicle, and a seemingly endless array of other taxes, we can't stop paying state employee unions. We are forced consumers of state services.

Story after story in local and national news asserts that Governor Walker is trying to take away union rights. But do unions have the right to operate a monopoly whose product, by law, cannot be refused? It is the rights of non-union tax-payers that are under far greater threat under the current collective bargaining rules. Walker's proposal is a simple check on a monopolistic organization than is bankrupting his state.

But it's not as simple as checking a group with too much power. For decades unions have been a cause rather than a mere economic entity. Many believe that pro-union laws passed under Franklin Roosevelt created the American middle-class and brought the common man out from under the thumb of cruel robber barons. But that reading of history is more political spin than fact.

Roughly 150 years before Roosevelt signed the union-promoting Wagoner Act, Benjamin Franklin composed a pamphlet that encouraged Europeans to immigrate to the newly freed colonies. Franklin wrote that "nowhere else in the world are the laboring poor so well fed, well lodged, well clothed and well paid as the United States of America." In other words, the middle class was not created by unions in the 1930s but through laissez faire capitalism beginning as early as the 1700s.

Collective bargaining certainly increased the wages of union members, particularly in the 1940s and 50s, the union heyday. The success of unions during those decades was partially due to the fact that most of the industrialized world had just blown itself to smithereens in World War II. A lack of international competition allowed private American unions to continually bargain for higher salaries. Once Europe and Japan rebuilt their industrial base, American labor was exposed as overpriced, causing many industries to move to other countries.

Public sector unions, however, can't be outdone by foreign competition. To maintain heavy influence over their members' wages and benefits, today's government employee unions need only to preserve advantageous collective bargaining laws. Thus the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees became the biggest independent campaign spender in the 2010 elections (not the Koch brothers, Karl Rove's PAC or any other right-wing group). AFSCME dropped an eye-popping $87.5 million, all to help Democrats get re-elected. It's no wonder that Organizing for America and other Democrat groups are rallying to the aid of Wisconsin's public sector unions. When asked about the situation in Madison, President Obama responded, "I think it's also important to recognize that public employees make enormous contributions to the well-being of our states and our cities." He could easily have said that public employees make "enormous contributions" to him and his political allies.

And so the Democrats are dependent on Big Labor and Big Labor is dependent on the Democrats. Such dependency has consequences. Unions rally in Madison in hopes to avoid a world without the scales heavily tipped in their favor. It is a behavior that says without an unfair advantage, granted by the state, the union-ites cannot function. President Grover Cleveland said such "paternal care on the part of the government weakens our national character." So it was with Greece, so it is in Wisconsin and around the country.

That weakening of character could not be better exemplified than by the 14 Democrat state senators who fled the state before the budget vote. If there is an example of prolonged adolescence and a disconnect between what we want to be real and what is real, it is 14 elected officials running to an out-of-state resort instead of making their case before the senate like adults.

Outside the partially empty senate chamber, one protester held up a sign that declared, "Egypt showed us the way."  No. Greece showed us the way -- the way we should avoid. America still has time to choose. Which path will we take?

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