— Bud Norman
There’s something slightly melancholy about Labor Day. The holiday announces the end of the lazy days of summer, when the children return to school, the adults turn their attention to politics and other unpleasant chores, and the days grow short as we reach September.
There’s an ambivalence about the meaning of the holiday, too. Many people regard the day as an honor to all those who labor under the curse of Adam, as a good a cause for celebration as any, but in fact the holiday is intended to honor the capital-L Labor of the union movement, which hardly seems worth honoring at all.
Whatever beneficial role the union movement might have played in the past, it has now fallen into widespread and well-deserved disrepute. Membership in private sector unions is at a historic low and falling, the vast majority of the working class that the unions claim to represent want nothing to do with them, and the union bosses are regarded with a low level of trust. Some of the unions still have enough political clout to wind up in control of General Motors, but that could soon prove temporary.
The public sector unions remain a formidable force, but they might have also reached a peak of influence. After losing the recall election to the heroically union-busting governor earlier this year in Wisconsin, birthplace of the public sector union and home to a larger-than-usual number of leftist loons, they seem to be in an unlikely position to prevail in the inevitable upcoming battles with other governors and state legislatures. Without the government-granted power of coercion they seem to shed members at a rapid rate, and that is likely to become the norm. The teachers’ unions are also powerful, and a major impediment to the much needed reforms, but even they suddenly seem vulnerable to scrutiny by a public that can’t help noticing how very stupid the young people seem these days.
— Bud Norman
Unaccustomed as we are to presenting good news, it’s hard to find anything bad about the results of Tuesday’s recall election in Wisconsin.
A more determined pessimist could find cause for worry in the fact that more than 46 percent of Badger State voters went against Republican Gov. Scott Walker, which is indeed a frighteningly large number, but even that cannot suppress our giddiness about the clear majority that voted to keep him around. The outcome is not only good for Wisconsin, which will retain the policies that have turned a multi-billion dollar state budget deficit into a multi-million dollar surplus and allowed school districts to hire rather than fire teachers, all without job-killing tax hikes, but it’s also good news for 49 other states where the political class now knows that such good deeds can go unpunished.
The only Wisconsinites who aren’t better off as a result of Walker’s actions are the teachers and other state employees, or at least the ones who wouldn’t been have been laid off if not for his reforms, and even they are still better compensated as a group than the public sector working stiffs who pay their salaries. Such reasonable, necessary, and widely beneficial demands were enough to enrage the public sector unions and their leftist allies, though, so they threw all their financial and physical resources into making an example of Walker with hopes of intimidating any other governor who might consider challenging their political power.
Governors in several states are being forced by economic realities to enact similar reforms, but the labor movement picked Walker for the fight because they thought Wisconsin — the proud home of “Fightin’ Bob” La Follette and the Progressive Movement, the first state to allow collective bargaining for public bargaining, and a state carried by the Democrats in every presidential election since 1984 — would provide the most favorable battleground. Having suffered a complete rout there, which included losses in previous recall elections for several state legislators and a proxy election for the state Supreme Court, the unions are now unlikely to intimidate reformers elsewhere.
Some are predicting the Wisconsin battle will prove devastating to the public unions, even likening it to the left’s Stalingrad, and there is ample reason to hope they might be right. Tuesday’s results mean that the state will continue to refuse to collection dues on behalf of the union, allowing members the option of not paying at all, and already the unions have suffered a huge drop in membership as a result. The often thuggish tactics that the anti-Walker forces resorted to almost certainly further damaged the unions’ reputations, which were already suffering according to numerous polls, and they ultimately proved ineffective.
— Bud Norman