Thursday, March 10, 2011

Just Like Health Care

I thought I wrote a post making this point earlier, but now it looks like I never actually hit "publish" (here it is, in case you're interested). Anyway, I too share Matt Yglesias' point that there is something admirably savvy in the Wisconsin GOP slamming through its union busting bill without regard for procedural niceties or the growing political backlash they're facing. This is what I wrote in the other post:
I'd be interested to see if Democrats play the same game [as the GOP did on health care reform]. If you have momentum, don't let the GOP off the hook. Characterize everything as renewed union-busting, the kissing cousin of the radical Scott Walker proposals (how do we know they're extreme? Because real, heartland Americans are protesting them!). No compromises, no mercy -- just hammer it home, day after day: Republicans want to hurt teachers, police officers, and firemen. They want only the middle class to sacrifice while the fatcats get tax breaks. On and on -- a drum beat of progressive fury that does to the GOP what the Tea Party did to us.

Of course, there were many voices within the Democratic Party during the health care debate that understood precisely what was happening, and urged Democrats to actually take a maximalist position. After all, if you're going to get blamed for it anyway, you might as well get some of the sweet with the bitter -- a genuinely ambitious, single-payer health care system. And one wonders if Republicans are keen enough to adopt this strategy -- if they're going to get raked over the coals regardless, they might as well please their corporate clients and blow up the unions.

I think that's precisely the dynamic we're seeing, up to and including the GOP's relatively greater savvy in taking the sweet with the bitter.

Of course, now the action turns to the recall election, where Wisconsin Democrats are hyper-energized. I think this could be a turning point for liberal fortunes in America. But I also think that, from a GOP anti-union perspective, they were right to pass this law. It's tougher to pass legislation than it is to undo it, and the reason you want legislative majorities is to pass legislation. When you get an opportunity, take it.

UPDATE: That being said, and again like with health care, it would have been wiser for Republicans to do this right away, rather than dither around about it. If you're going to go maximalist, you might as well do it right away. If you're not willing to compromise, then there's no point in waiting and letting the public mood sour on you.

1 comment:

troll_dc2 said...

I completely understand what is at stake here. The Republicans (and not just in Wisconsin) are doing what they can to make it impossible for the Democrats to win; they are restricting or wiping our unions so as to deprive the Democrats of manpower and money, they are seeking to make it hard for people without government-issued identity cards to vote, they are seeking to restrict the ability of former felons to vote, they are trying to prevent college students from voting in the location where they go to school, and the like. I do not like these attempts to institute one-party government, to put it mildly.

But I have one problem with the liberal position. It is that public-sector collective bargaining has been a disaster. It has driven up wages and benefits, especially benefits to be financed down the road. It has made it hard to get rid of incompetent workers or workers who misbehave. Taxpayers everywhere have paid more as a result than they would have under the former reliance on civil service laws and they have not gotten more.

With collective bargaining comes arbitration, which essentially relieves public decisionmakers of the ability to make a decision that sticks. (It is said that arbitration is the quid pro quo for giving up the right to strike, but there is no right to strike in the public sector except insofar as a legislature grants it; so the assertion makes little sense here.) Arbitrators tend to rule for employees even when the facts are outrageous. Many of them refuse to uphold a discharge, which they compare to capital punishment. The end result all too often is that a government policy gets undercut. Often, a government agency will decide to work around a problem employee because of the arbitration process, wasting a lot of money as a result.

Unions also are influential in the political process; they are often effective at electing legislators who will vote to increase spending on wages and benefits and opposed legislators who want to reign in costs. The losers are the taxpayers.

So I am not opposed to wiping out public-employee unions. That will help return control of the government to the voters and take it away from its employees. Employees are not left without a remedy if this happens; they have the civil service system to protect them.