Unions used to be a good thing. In an era where unpaid debts resulted in incarceration, unions helped change America for the better. Unfortunately, big unions are no longer allies of the people. Instead, these organizations now exist with a singular operating focus: maximizing benefits for their limited class of members without regard for others. This is crony capitalism cloaked in the language of “equality,” greased with bundles of dollars and enforced by calculating intimidation. Where union leaders lead, the Democratic Party obediently follows.
Just look at the recent Democratic convention. Here, delegates in attendance adopted a platform that might as well have been written by Richard Trumka (perhaps it was). Stating that that they “vigorously oppose” right-to-work, paycheck-protection and save-our-secret-ballot legislation, the delegates ticked all the big union boxes. In taking these positions, the Democrats claim that they are the ultimate allies of low- and middle-income workers. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is nothing moral in denying a worker the right to take a job without first joining a union, or in transferring money directly from a worker’s salary to a union without any permission or in restricting the ability to vote without intimidation. These are mafia policies designed to weaken individual rights and strengthen the hand of union bosses to pursue their partisan agendas.
When Democrats have the audacity to complain about GOP special interests, they are committing an act of stunning, unequaled absurdity.
Sadly, the union position in the Democratic platform is not simply a statement of beliefs. Instead, it is the template to which Democratic politicians across America subscribe in making policy. This dynamic has had catastrophic consequences.
First, let’s consider the greatest fiscal challenge facing the states. Unfunded public pension liabilities are out of control. The four states in the worst position are unsurprisingly big union states — California, Illinois, New Jersey and Ohio. These pension liabilities require that states reform (cue Chris Christie) or go bankrupt. Further, because of reduced tax revenues stemming in part from the economic downturn, many American cities currently face significant annual deficits.
In this context, where do the unions stand?
Consider Chicago. At the moment, Chicago’s teachers are striking because they are unwilling to accept greater scrutiny of poor teachers. Even though the Chicago education system is a billion dollars over budget, even though Chicago’s teachers are better paid than any other major American city’s teachers, even though they are using children as political pawns, Democrats like Mayor Rahm Emanuel are still bending to the union’s will. Instead of demanding concessions, “Rahmbo” has been cowed into offering an effective 16% raise. Maybe Emanuel’s nickname should instead be “Dumbo.”
Illinois’ state government is suffering from similar problems. Because the unions have broken the state budget and driven taxes to ridiculous heights, Illinois can no longer attract businesses or investment. Just last week, a major Egyptian company decided to build a $1.4 billion natural gas plant in Iowa rather than Illinois. The company chose Iowa even though Illinois had offered more generous tax incentives because, as the company’s owner put it, “Whatever tax regime exists [in Illinois] today we have to take with a grain of salt. The unfunded pension liabilities of the state of Illinois were a big concern to us, let alone the hypothetical situations that exist in doing business in Illinois and Chicago.” Let’s be clear — for the sake of the unions’ never-ending money buffet, Illinois is destroying its private sector and driving itself further into the fiscal grave. And who suffers? Everyone in Illinois who doesn’t have a seat at the union table.
California provides another example of the destructive Democratic patronage relationship with the unions. Because politicians in the Golden State (an apt name) have long been unable to say no to union demands, California faces a severe public pension crisis. Unfortunately, Gov. Jerry Brown has shown no interest in making substantive reforms. However, there is some light in California. The Democratic mayor of San Jose and the Republican mayor of San Diego recently took the initiative themselves. Faced with residents angered by reduced services and intransigent unions, these mayors introduced major reforms to cut pension costs. They did so via public votes that returned major victories in favor of reform. In these cities, as in Wisconsin and New Jersey, union greed was ultimately stopped by a wall of public anger.
Where does the president stand? Sadly, unlike the Democratic mayor of San Jose, President Obama is firmly behind the unions. As part of his broader economic delusion, the president has happily fought businesses in the service of his union allies. For the president, pleasing big unions is more important than finding jobs for unemployed Americans. In addition, while the president might claim to support the lowest-paid workers, the inflationary pressures (resulting from artificial wage structures) in union-heavy states suggest otherwise. Unions make life expensive for low-income people.
In this election year, the lesson for Republicans is clear. Faced with the president’s accusations that the GOP is the enemy of middle- and low-income Americans, Republican candidates should point to the facts. The facts are clear. Democrats call for “fairness” but continue to reward union blackmail with endless gifts. Democrats claim they are the allies of the private sector, but in endlessly supporting the unions, they limit employment opportunities and are forced to raise taxes on those who do not have access to the union trough. Democrats talk about “empowerment” but unrepentantly block efforts to protect the salaries and basic freedoms of individuals who just want to work.
Mitt Romney should take notice. In both moral and economic terms, this is not a debate that President Obama can win.
Tom Rogan is an American blogger and writer currently living in London, England. He recently completed a law course and holds a BA in War Studies from King’s College London and an MSc in Middle East Politics from SOAS, London. His blog can be found at TomRoganThinks.com. Follow him on Twitter.