Charles Krauthammer: Beginning of the end for unions - Beloit Daily News: Opinion

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Charles Krauthammer: Beginning of the end for unions

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Posted: Monday, June 11, 2012 4:00 pm

WASHINGTON — Tuesday, June 5, 2012, will be remembered as the beginning of the long decline of the public-sector union. It will follow, and parallel, the shrinking of private-sector unions, now down to less than 7 percent of American workers. The abject failure of the unions to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker — the first such failure in U.S. history — marks the Icarus moment of government-union power. Wax wings melted, there’s nowhere to go but down.

The ultimate significance of Walker’s union reforms has been largely misunderstood. At first, the issue was curtailing outrageous union benefits, far beyond those of the ordinary Wisconsin taxpayer. That became a nonissue when the unions quickly realized that trying to defend the indefensible would render them toxic for the real fight to come.

SO THEY made the fight about the “right” to collective bargaining, which the reforms severely curtailed. In a state as historically progressive as Wisconsin — in 1959, it was the first to legalize the government-worker union — they thought they could win as a matter of ideological fealty.

But as the recall campaign progressed, the Democrats stopped talking about bargaining rights. It was a losing issue. Walker was able to make the case that years of corrupt union-politician back-scratching had been bankrupting the state. And he had just enough time to demonstrate the beneficial effects of overturning that arrangement: a huge budget deficit closed without raising taxes, significant school-district savings from ending cozy insider health-insurance contracts, and a modest growth in jobs.

But the real threat behind all this was that the new law ended automatic government collection of union dues. That was the unexpressed and politically inexpressible issue. Without the thumb of the state tilting the scale by coerced collection, union membership became truly voluntary. Result? Newly freed members rushed for the exits. In less than one year, AFSCME, the second largest public-sector union in Wisconsin, has lost more than 50 percent of its membership.

IT WAS predictable. In Indiana, where Gov. Mitch Daniels instituted by executive order a similar reform seven years ago, government-worker unions have since lost 91 percent of their dues-paying membership. In Wisconsin, Democratic and union bosses (a redundancy) understood what was at stake if Walker prevailed: not benefits, not “rights,” but the very existence of the unions.

So they fought and they lost. Repeatedly. Tuesday was their third and last shot at reversing Walker’s reforms. In April 2011, they ran a candidate for chief justice of the state Supreme Court who was widely expected to strike down the law. She lost.

In July and August 2011, they ran recall elections of state senators, needing three to reclaim Democratic — i.e., union — control. They failed. (The likely flipping of one Senate seat to the Democrats on June 5 is insignificant. The Senate is not in session and won’t be until after yet another round of elections in November.)

And then, Tuesday, their Waterloo. Walker defeated their gubernatorial candidate by a wider margin than he had two years ago.

THE UNIONS defeat marks a historical inflection point. They set out to make an example of Walker. He succeeded in making an example of them as a classic case of reactionary liberalism. An institution founded to protect its members grew in size, wealth, power and arrogance. A half-century later these unions were exercising essential control of everything from wages to work rules in the running of government — something that, in a system of republican governance, is properly the sovereign province of the citizenry.

Why did the unions lose? Because Norma Rae nostalgia is not enough, and it hardly applied to government workers living better than the average taxpayer who supports them.

And because of the rise of a new constitutional conservatism — committed to limited government and a more robust civil society — of the kind that swept away Democrats in the 2010 midterm shellacking.

MOST important, however, because in the end reality prevails. As economist Herb Stein once put it: Something that can’t go on, won’t. These public-sector unions, acting, as FDR had feared, with an inherent conflict of interest regarding their own duties, were devouring the institution they were supposed to serve, rendering state government as economically unsustainable as the collapsing entitlement states of southern Europe.

It couldn’t go on. Now it won’t. All that was missing was a political leader willing to risk his career to make it stop. Because, time being infinite, even the inevitable doesn’t happen on its own.

(Write to Charles Krauthammer at

(c) Washington Post

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  • luckydog posted at 6:47 pm on Sun, Jun 24, 2012.

    luckydog Posts: 3608

    Bill, my 7th and 8th grade students were better behaved and generally better informed than you usually show yourself to be so I'm just trying to help you out.

  • Mr Data posted at 9:43 am on Sat, Jun 16, 2012.

    Mr Data Posts: 3854

    Just as it once was a leader in the PROGRESSIVE movement nationally ... I think once again the RECALL elelction shows that Wisconsin is still a national leader; a FORWARD looking state; a futuristic visionary state.

    I say that because of these reasons:

    First since the passing of NAFTA, the beginning of the bi-partisan favored - FREE TRADE policy, Wisconsin has lost hundreds of businesses AND over 125,000 living wage, manufacturing jobs to off shore laber markets.

    Second, Wisconsin was only the third state in our nation's history to hold a RECALL vote on its Governor.

    Third, Wisconsin once again was a leader -- it was the first state in our nation's history to re-elect its Governor in a RECALL elelction. The first time ever.

    Fourth, Wisconsin's Governor is anti-public sector employee -- union, and non-union. Just as the the number of private sector union jobs have been neartly eliminated, so will there be a renewed push by this Governor to do the same with public sector jobs in Wisconsin.

    And taking its lead from Wisconsin, that will start a drive nationally to reduce the number of employees in the public sector across this nation.

    Regardless of what the REAL number is in its 'so-called job creation', For over 20 years now, Wisconsin has become a leader in CRUSHING jobs, union and non-union, in this state. It's pretty well exploited and crushed all the private sector jobs it can .. so now its beginning the extermination of the public sector jobs.

    Forward, .... hoooooo........, Wisconsin!

  • billtinder posted at 7:40 am on Fri, Jun 15, 2012.

    billtinder Posts: 4766

    Oh, by the way; congratulations on your resounding victory in the recent recall elections. I know winning that senate seat counts for so much! Sorry that president Obama couldn't be there to lend support, perhaps he'll show up in Chicago for the teachers there. What are the odds?[wink]

  • billtinder posted at 7:30 am on Fri, Jun 15, 2012.

    billtinder Posts: 4766

    Heh, heh, heh....

    Poor deluded lucky still thinks he's dictating behavioral policy to a classroom full of kids. Sorry pal, but you just don't wield that type of authority on this website. You've got your hands full anyway, just trying to keep your own commentary half-way plausible.

    But please do continue to show your ignorance; by barking out orders that you have neither the authority nor the wherewithal to enforce them![beam]

  • luckydog posted at 7:35 pm on Thu, Jun 14, 2012.

    luckydog Posts: 3608

    And Bill you really need to either try to post serious information or opinion and not just try for the smart alec comment each time. Have something to say or be silent.

  • luckydog posted at 7:34 pm on Thu, Jun 14, 2012.

    luckydog Posts: 3608

    The pendulum swings both ways. When declining unions are unable to stand against giant corporations and cut wages and gut benefits, eventually workers will rise up again and organize. It's too bad that most of today's workers are too young to appreciate the battles fought and won for them by unions. They will learn.

  • billtinder posted at 6:52 pm on Tue, Jun 12, 2012.

    billtinder Posts: 4766

    The good news is they can't picket in Chicago and Madison at the same time![beam]

  • jmartin posted at 4:45 pm on Mon, Jun 11, 2012.

    jmartin Posts: 248

    All this happening at the same time the poor teachers of Chicago want a 30 percent increase in pay when Illinois is broke.


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