Why labor can’t compromise in Wisconsin

Mickey Kaus Columnist
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Why the WI Dems Can’t Compromise: In the Wisconsin union fight, it looks as if Gov. Walker has taken Chuck Lane’s advice, which is to give ground on collective bargaining (allowing the right to bargain for raises, for example, without limiting them to the CPI) while sticking with the elimination of the mandatory dues checkoff.  The latter is what really terrifies unions, because it might dry up the political funds they use to elect candidates (who then give them raises, etc.). Arguably this political spending power is more important to the unions even than collective bargaining power–especially in states where unions don’t have the right to strike, they can get more by electing friendly pols than by traditional union negotiating tactics anyway.  But that’s also why the pro-union Dems are unlikely to be given permission to agree to Walker’s compromise. …

P.S.: Is it so radical not to have a mandatory dues checkoff?  Is it in reality fatal to unions (though obviously Walker wants to weaken them)? My friend Tom Geoghegan, a very pro-labor lawyer, has actually suggested voluntary dues as a potential answer to organized labor’s larger national problems–in The Nation!:

Tell people their rights will trump the rights of the union as an institution.

That includes the right not to pay dues, not to pay a cent, i.e., a completely voluntary labor movement. “My God, unions will never survive.” I want to say, Nonsense: they all survive in Europe. But it’s true; Europe really is different. For one thing, there is nothing like our unbalanced US Senate to block labor friendly laws … And it is easier to bargain for large groups of workers. Still, the people who benefit from such large-scale bargaining in a country like Germany are free not to pay—and many don’t. So what? Many do—up to 20 percent of the workers in the country. Yet collective bargaining covers more than 50 percent of workers.

So, what do we do about the free riders? Let them ride.

Update–Breaking: Maybe the unions won’t have to compromise. The GOPs may be pursuing the “nuclear option” of breaking off anti-union provisions and passing them seperately, without Democratic votes. Even that might ultimately be an attempt to provoke a compromise, of course. …

Mickey Kaus