Gov. Walker in trouble?

Mickey Kaus Columnist
Font Size:

Is Walker Making the Sale? Heather Higgins, a supporter of  Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union reforms, thinks his side–and the reforms–are in trouble, with the possibility that they could “not only lose, but lose badly” in upcoming judicial and recall elections. She’s got some of her own polling data to back this up (which echoes other data trumpeted by the left). …Why the underwater polls?  Higgins initially suggests that Walker’s personality is the problem. But would people think the governor was “dictatorial” and “radical” if they agreed with his reform? The bigger problem, as Higgins later notes, is that the case for defanging public employee unions is not an easy case to make in a blue state, where it indeed seems a radical step to take:

Wisconsin voters revealed basic misunderstandings on numerous issues, including how much government union members and taxpayers have been contributing to union pensions, what the fiscal situation in Wisconsin is, how collective bargaining is, or isn’t, done elsewhere, and how dues are collected and used. Building an understanding of these fundamental policy issues is key to building support for reform. [E.A.]

Like Ann Coulter, Higgins worries that Walker isn’t doing enough to get his message across. … What would that require?

1) Pointing out the growing disparity between cushy union contracts and the working situation of average American taxpayers. Horror stories are useful here;

 2) Noting that eliminating government workers’ “collective bargaining rights” doesn’t mean taking away employee’s free speech rights, for example, or the right to have an organization that advocates for them. It means taking away specific, monopoly-like special privileges granted to unions during the New Deal and Great Society years (including the right to be the sole and exclusive bargaining agent for workers, a requirement that employers bargain “in good faith”–whatever that means–and for many government workers the automatic deduction of dues from paychecks).

3) Pointing out that government unions aren’t like private unions, in that there aren’t any profits in the government to redistribute, union work rules tend to reinforce government’s inherent tendencies toward inefficiency, governments don’t have to stay competitive, the threat of a legal or illegal strike is close to blackmail, and unlike in private industry workers get to try to choose and then buy off the bosses who negotiate with them by donating money and manpower to campaigns.

Is that enough to make the sale? I’m not so sure. I think it’s fair to say that the CW among skeptical Dems and even moderate GOPS is something like “I’m not against unions, of course–but public employee unions are a problem.” But this concedes that there is a good–unionism, with it’s “rights”–that you are thinking about taking away from government workers just because they are employed by the state. A more powerful argument might avoid that concession by pointing to the problems with even private sector unionism (work rules, overreach, rigid seniority systems, general inflexibility because everything has to be negotiated out). If ever there was a time to make that broader argument, it’s now–when private unions are held in lower regard than they’ve been in decades. For that, I think, we have the UAW to thank.

The argument would be: Even private 50s-style unionism isn’t so good. Unions screw up enterprises. They screw up private enterprises. They screw up public enterprises. But with private enterprises, if they screw things up too much the company usually goes broke and disappears. If unions screw up government, that doesn’t happen. The government doesn’t disappear. It just stays screwed up.