The Last Gasps of Public-Sector Unionism

Democrats are settling into a hybrid state of denial, anger, and depression in the aftermath of the Wisconsin recall election, where Scott Walker handed them an historic and embarrassing defeat. 

This was clearly another vote against vampiric public-sector unionism in Wisconsin and the collective bargaining that has grifted copious and unwavering entitlement funding from taxpayers.  But Democrats are in complete denial of that fact.  They are convinced that allowing union bosses to extort money by holding public officials hostage just makes sense in a workers' rights kind of way.  And since Democrats also believe themselves to be the smartest guys in the room, they have no doubt that Americans would agree with them if it weren't for the rich fat cats stuffing money into Walker's campaign chest, allowing for a media onslaught of anti-union sentiment.

Of course, the GOP financial advantage has been dishonestly inflated, often touted by liberal pundits as somewhere in the range of 7-to-1.  This figure, however, does not account for unions' contribution to the campaign, which ring to the tune of about $10 million.  Cameron Joseph at The Hill is nice enough to offer the more reasonable spending discrepancy, reflecting a GOP advantage of roughly 2 to 1.

Doesn't quite give the same picture of shadowy corporate interests swallowing the little man, does it?  After all, Barack Obama outspent John McCain at roughly 2.5 to 1 in 2008.  And the same Democrats now crying foul find no fault in the Obama campaign's propaganda blitzkrieg in the weeks leading to the 2008 election -- an assault that dwarfed McCain's at a spending level of 5 to 1.

This omission of union contributions in considering the logistics of the Wisconsin race is an act of pure deceit, but Americans aren't falling for the ruse.  Public unions have notoriously deep pockets and an organizational infrastructure built upon campaigning, and it is an unspoken truth understood on both sides of the ideological divide that their financial clout and efforts are singularly directed to benefit their own symbiotic existence with Democrats.  And the left now seems keenly aware that if unions do not have the ability to collectively bargain with politicians, and if they are unable to demand that all public workers finance union efforts, public unions will go the way of the dodo -- and with them, the grandiose collectivist ambition of the Democratic Party.

And they are right.  But through mental gymnastics and blind hope, they fail to recognize the real reason why this is all happening to them.  They cling to this notion that big-money corporations and their surrogates in the GOP have poisoned the information well, infecting the public with anti-union fervor when they would otherwise be supportive of the union cause.  But the truth is much, much simpler.

Collective bargaining and the power it brings public unions is so fundamentally abhorrent a prospect that even the godfather of progressivism himself, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, had this to say of the matter in 1937:

All Government employees should realize that the prospect of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service.  It has distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purpose of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations.  The employer is the whole people, who speak by laws enacted by their representatives in Congress.  Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters.

Ironically, life was breathed into FDR's fears by his own political progeny, who regularly invoke his name.  And now, dreaded collective bargaining has been inseparably tied to the fate of Roosevelt's party.

It is now clear that FDR's warning was prescient to the point of being eerie.  Public unions have become an organ of a political party, directing public policy by negotiating with administrative officials that are incapable of fully representing the citizenry that subsidizes their existence.  And by way of collective bargaining and the resulting collusion with corrupt politicians, they have pilfered the public treasuries to increase their wealth and influence.

FDR feared the very idea of collective bargaining and public union power, and he was opposed to it in principle.  So why is it so hard for the left to believe that after witnessing five decades of the result, the American public would not fear it also and be opposed to its practice?

The truth that Democrats understandably repress is that Scott Walker was elected to dismantle overgrown public unions the first time around.  And that request was even more emphatic the second time around, after having seen the results of Walker's policy reform.  What Wisconsin has witnessed since 2010, according to Charles Krauthammer, is "a huge budget deficit closed without raising taxes, significant school-district savings from ending cozy insider health-insurance contracts, and modest growth in jobs."

But "the real threat," Krauthammer continues, "is that the new law ended automatic collection of union dues."  As Rachel Maddow laments, "Democrats have no way to compete in terms of big outside money."  Heretofore, the "big inside money" of the labor unions was Democrats' answer to that.  The unions' "real, practical effect," according to Maddow, is that they "had been big supporters of Democratic candidates and Democratic causes and had had a lot to do with the Democratic ground game."  Clearly, automatic dues collection, a result of collective bargaining, is nothing more than a mandate that all public workers donate to Democratic politicians' war chests.  Since Wisconsin's new law has given public workers a choice, public unions have "experienced a dramatic drop in membership -- by more than half for the second biggest union," dealing a decisive blow to labor unions and, by proxy, the Democratic Party.

So it stands to reason that the choice for Wisconsinites in the recall election was painfully clear to make.  On one path, they could have chosen to preserve their heritage of five decades as ballast for Big Labor and the Democratic Party.  One the other path, they could have renounced that heritage and the failure it has wrought by choosing success and freedom. They reasonably opted for the latter.

Wisconsin's recall election proves that American citizens now find the institution of a powerful public union an anathema, not a boon.  That is why Democrats have come unhinged and now claim that Republicans stole the election.  Wisconsin signals the last gasps of an inherently diseased, and now dying, entity.

William Sullivan blogs at and can be followed on Twitter.