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A Fifty Year Mistake



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My column today makes the case that it’s time we remedied the obvious mistake of ever allowing public unions in the first place.  An excerpt:

Traditional, private-sector unions were born out of an often-bloody adversarial relationship between labor and management. It’s been said that during World War I, U.S. soldiers had better odds of surviving on the front lines than miners did in West Virginia coal mines. Mine disasters were frequent; hazardous conditions were the norm. In 1907, the Monongah mine explosion claimed the lives of 362 West Virginia miners. Day-to-day life often resembled serfdom, with management controlling vast swaths of the miners’ lives. Before unionization and many New Deal–era reforms, Washington had little power to reform conditions by legislation.
Government unions have no such narrative on their side. Do you recall the Great DMV Cave-in of 1959? How about the travails of second-grade teachers recounted in Upton Sinclair’s famous schoolhouse sequel to The Jungle? No? Don’t feel bad, because no such horror stories exist.

Government workers were making good salaries in 1962 when President Kennedy lifted, by executive order (so much for democracy), the federal ban on government unions. Civil-service regulations and similar laws had guaranteed good working conditions for generations.

The argument for public unionization wasn’t moral, economic, or intellectual. It was rankly political.

An additional point. I think the focus on Scott Walker and Wisconsin is somewhat misleading. When you look at events in Ohio, Indiana, New Jersey and several other states, it’s becoming increasingly clear that while Walker was ahead of the curve, the reckoning with public unions is a national phenomenon. That’s why it is so absurd for the White House to pretend this is all local politics. Wisconsin matters, a lot. But it’s just one front.



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