Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Memo to Public Employee Unions – When Your Friends Turn Against You They or You Are Doing Something Wrong

And It’s Not They

The enemies of unions in general and public employee unions in particular are big, strong, powerful and rich.  The include billionaire Koch brothers who have allied themselves with Republican candidates and office holders to try to eliminate collective bargaining from the public sector.  In Wisconsin, as everyone knows, they have largely succeeded.

But this Forum has long argued that billionaire radicals and Republicans are not the greatest danger to public employee unions.  The greatest threat to the right of public employees to organize and bargain is the unions themselves.  They fail to understand that public employees are different from private sector employees, and that to succeed they need political and voter support.  This means putting the public interest first.  If they do so, they have a much greater chance of obtaining their own personal goals.

As noted in an article in The Economist, public employee unions are now facing opposition from those who once staunchly befriended them.

It is not so obvious as it once was, however, that unions and Democrats are allies. Some unionists were bitterly disappointed when a push in 2009 to legalise “card-check”, by which workers can form a union if a majority sign up for it, was shot down by Democrats in the Senate. Nor were they pleased that the Democratic convention was held in North Carolina, a “right-to-work” state. Upset with the current administration, the United Mine Workers have yet to endorse Mr Obama.

Democratic governors and mayors have also been taking on the unions in New York, Los Angeles and, most recently, Chicago, where Rahm Emanuel, the mayor and Mr Obama’s former chief of staff, fought a lonely battle with the teachers’ unions over seven days. 

This does not mean Labor is abandoning the Democratic party, because the alternative is extremely unpalatable.  But it does means both sides are not very enthusiastic about the other, and the result is this.

To mobilise the troops, union leaders are trying to remind members what is at stake: Medicare and Social Security as they know them, Mr Obama’s health-care reform, and the continued health of unions themselves. “The subtext”, says Steve Early, author of “Civil Wars in US Labour”, “is ‘Vote Obama, he’ll screw us less’.”

“Vote Obama, he’ll screw us less” is not a winning slogan, for either the unions or Mr. Obama. 

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