Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
In the interest of full disclosure, I have to state that I have been a card-carrying union member.
Honesty also compels me to note that it wasn’t a hard-core union. I belonged to the Musicians’ Union, for some obscure reason involving my rock band back in high school.
I also once came close to joining the Teamsters’ Union, which sounds a lot more serious. Teamsters. Heavy duty. But again I must point out that my Teamsters’ membership was required for my job selling ice cream from a truck as a Good Humor man. (I quit before I joined the union because I got tired of wasting beautiful summer days driving down suburban streets ringing bells and selling ice cream to yowling children.)
I think that covers my union experiences.
Still, despite this extensive union background, I am quick to acknowledge that unions have often become deeply corrupt, harmful influences, damaging their own members. Run by greedy, grasping officials no better than thieves, they have fallen prey to special interests and have ignored the will of the people and the good of their communities and have simply fed like blind pigs at the trough of money and power and …
Wait a minute.
Was I talking about unions or politicians? Both, I guess.
Which brings us to the current uproar in Wisconsin.
So what, you say. So what if one more state goes down the drain – people unable to make a living, kids growing up not knowing a hypotenuse from a hippopotamus. (And, really, is there any difference?)
Why should we care about unions in Wisconsin?
Well, to begin with, the fight in Wisconsin is supposedly over balancing the state budget, but anyone who’s paying attention knows that the real point is the governor’s determination to destroy the public employees’ union.
In case you haven’t been paying attention, here’s one quick item: In addition to taking away the union’s power to bargain on behalf of its members (which is really the whole point of a union), the governor wants to require the union to be re-certified by a vote of public employees every single year. And to win that yearly re-certification, the union would need a majority of all state employees – not just a majority of those voting in the election.
The point is clear. The governor wants to bust the union.
And he wants to bust the union because union-busting is a basic tenet of Republican politics.
And that, of course, is because most unions are politically active on behalf of Democratic candidates.
There’s a lot of shouting and name-calling involved, which tends to obscure this basic equation. But it’s really just about that simple.
Stomp the enemy.
Am I making this up? Well, here’s an item by Stephen Moore of the Wall Street Journal. Moore begins by quoting Mark Mix of the National Right to Work Foundation (a major anti-union organization), who said, “Republicans can’t turn back in Wisconsin. This will only embolden the unions.” Then Mr. Moore adds his own comments, “It’s foolish to believe that backing down will satisfy the unions. If history is any guide, more than 90 percent of union money will be used to defeat Republicans, no matter what happens.”
So that’s what it’s all about: politics, not budgets.
Now I admit, the not-unreasonable point has been made that unions contribute large amounts of money to electing state and local politicians and then, after the elections, turn around and negotiate for wages and benefits with those same politicians.
That does seem unfair. You get me elected and I give you a big raise.
But – and this is not often mentioned – the other side of the coin is that big business contributes very generously to politicians and then, just like the unions, calls in those favors.
Government is supposed to regulate industry, making sure big corporations don’t run amok, wreck their workers’ lives and destroy the national economy.
How’s that been working out lately?
Union bosses, corporate bosses, political bosses. They all have their trotters in the trough, snouts buried deep, snarfing up whatever they can as fast as they can.
And, sadly, all we can do is try to keep the playing field (the trough?) level.
But after last year’s Supreme Court decision, almost all restrictions on corporate political donations have been eliminated. With the corporate cash floodgates wide open, unions remain the only large organizations that can fight back and, as I so eloquently put it, level the trough.
Right before the 2010 election, the Center for Responsive Politics reported that the top four outside organizations spending money in the campaign were “overtly conservative”: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ($34 million), American Action Network ($22.1 million), the Karl Rove-backed American Crossroads ($19.9 million) and Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies ($16.2 million).
Behind those Big Four were two “liberal labor unions”: Service Employees International Union ($15.5 million) and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees ($11.8 million).
Two obvious facts: 1. the unions were both public-employees unions, and, 2. the unions were far, far behind in the dollars game.
Still, it’s no wonder that Republican politicians would love to cut off this source of big money for the Democrats.
Now let’s try to tie up this saggy bag in a not-too-sloppy bow.
Unions – like politicians and corporations – often go wild. But, just as we don’t execute politicians or corporations for their sins, so we should not allow anyone to destroy unions.
Remember, unions gave us the eight-hour day, the five-day week, the minimum wage, workers’ compensation for injuries on the job, an end to child labor and a lot of other things that all Americans ought to be proud of.
People died to win those rights. And if you think those are bad things, well, you should just turn around and waddle back to the trough and dig your snout back in just as deep as you can.
Because I’m not talking to you.