Unions and the GOP

As an historian, I get pretty frustrated by the Republican Party. I understand why the Party of Big Business ™ is anti-union but I don’t understand why the Party of Small Government is against unions for Public Employees. Here’s my thought process.

The GOP and the Tea Partiers make a big deal these days about the Founders and their vision of small government. It’s not strictly accurate since the Constitution greatly enlarged the powers of the national government over what it could do under the Articles of Confederation, but they were skeptical enough of a strong central government–stemming from their experiences with the strong central goverment of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland–that when they did create our current system, they loaded it with checks and balances. Okay this is a good thing.

In the 19th Century and early 20th Century, corporations got to be so big that they were able to run roughshod over the concept of a free market for labor. Coal mines were able to keep their employees in near-slavery (distinguished by their inability to buy and trade employees like capital), railroad and manufacturing could kill and maim their employees, if not directly then at the very least through indifference to their safety, and all kinds of employers could exploit their employees with low wages. Individual workers didn’t have the negotiating power that large corporations did until they banded together and fought for and won collective bargaining rights.

In the mid- to late 20th Century we saw massive growth of the Federal government for a variety of reasons, but one of the reasons had its roots in that same late 19th-early 20th Century period when Progressives and Populists started working to protect ordinary workers (voters) from their oppressive corporate overlords.

Flash forward to today. Government, for certain sectors of Conservatism is The Enemy and at every level–Federal, State, and Local–the rallying cry is “Smaller!” They want checks on government power, especially checks on spending. The Governor of Wisconsin and his fellow-Republican legislators have proposed legislation to strip government workers of their collective bargaining rights. They claim that it is all about fiscal responsibility and budget cutting, but even when the unions accede to the budget provisions, they still insist on pressing forward for the revocation of collective bargaining. Let me remind you that collective bargaining is a means for workers to check the power and influence of their employers. In this case, their employer is the State Government.

The thing that confuses me about this is that people who are begging for checks on government power are, at the same time, trying to break one of those checks on government. Let’s not pretend that this is strictly about balancing the budget. Bargaining with all of your employees at once doesn’t require you to give in to demands that are going to cripple your budget.

I heard Governor Scott Walker on Meet The Press this morning complain about how, as a local government official, the public employee unions beat him at the negotiating table. I was involved in negotiations with the teachers’ union back in my School Board days. The Spearfish Education Association wasn’t allowed to strike, but they were allowed to picket and get out in front of the community and make headlines in a town that hardly ever sees anything like that. We avoided impasse with the union during the negotiations that we had, we weren’t exactly popular with the unions, but neither did we have to go make drastic changes to the property tax to pay for teacher raises. Not that they didn’t deserve bigger raises than they got, but the school board needs to strike a balance between the needs of their employees and the needs of their constituents (taxpayers). My response to Gov. Walker is that if you aren’t eloquent enough to talk your union into understanding the position you are in, or not savvy enough to give on items that don’t cost much but still have value to the union, or tough enough to just say no when a demand from the union is out of the question, then you ought not be in public office.

It also came out in his interview that he didn’t force changes on the Police and Fire Department unions. They won’t have to take the cuts the other unions would and they won’t have to lose any collective bargaining rights. The governor said that losing teachers for three days was an inconvenience but losing Public Safety employees for any length of time was not something he wanted to face. In other words, he didn’t want to take on any union he thought would make him look bad in the eyes of the Public. I’m not sure he chose wisely.

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Super Bowl of Moderation

While many folks, quite understandably, are focused on the Big Game (not to infringe on anyone’s trademark), today I’m writing about the Austin American-Statesman’s Opinion Section.

First, you can always tell when Ken Herman has had a strong hand in writing the main editorial. Today, the tell-tale sign was all the Roman numerals. I’m not taking any position on whether this is good or bad, I’m just saying his style is recognizable.

Second there were some interesting things in the letters. Brandon Burkman asks “…what good job market are you talking about?” The answer is the hidden job market; the one where you hear about a job from someone you know before it gets posted and maybe before the company knows they need someone. If Brandon’s layoff package included outplacement services as mine did, he’s probably heard of this concept. This is how I got my job, so the good news is that it does work. The bad news is that it took me 13 months, so it may only be slightly better than the other job market.

Also in the letters were some thoughts on the State Budget. I’ve already shared some of my thoughts on this, but let me add my voice to the chorus of people who are okay with having taxes raised for genuinely important priorities like education funding.  As for the letter writer who published the address for the Bureau of the Public Debt, I have a few thoughts. One, I am in favor of people voluntarily sending money to the Federal Government to pay down the debt. Two, the Bureau of the Public Debt is, as previously noted, a Federal agency and has has exactly nothing to do with the Texas state budget or Texas state taxes, so this whole letter is one big non sequitur. Three, I wonder how many people who make such a big deal about the Federal Deficit and how horrible it is that we are burdening our children and grandchildren with debt have sent money to the Bureau of the Public Debt to help relieve their children and grandchildren of this burden? The ones who get air time spend a lot of time talking about not adding to the debt any further, but I haven’t heard a single one of them talk about how they’re going to pay down the debt they’ve already incurred. If someone can point me to evidence to the contrary, I’d like to see it.

There is another letter about Politifact and Obamacare.  My thoughts on this letter are actually very tangential to the thrust of this letter, but I’m going to share them anyway. PolitiFact Texas recently delved into a statement from Gov. Rick Perry about how Texas pioneered space exploration and that even the first word spoken on the moon was “Houston.” PolitiFact Texas, for reasons that I don’t understand, decided that the most significant part of that statement was the “first word spoken on the moon” part. Personally, I think the United States really took the lead on pioneering space. They certainly paid the bills. I was really disappointed that Politifact Texas decided to fact check the least significant part of that statement.

Moving on, my third stop in the Opinion section is Ken Herman’s column, specifically the “roll call” at the Texas House where a few Representatives who are actually present go around pushing buttons to fraudulently mark their absent colleagues present. Does it bother anyone else that the House conducts business with an imaginary quorum? Another of Herman’s points is that the business they are conducting isn’t really all that significant at this stage of the session, still, for people who are so bent out of shape on voter fraud at the ballot box, they sure don’t seem to be too concerned about it in their own chamber. I say, the voting buttons legislators have to push have fingerprint readers in them. Vote fraud seems to be a lot more widespread inside the capitol building than it is outside of it.

Fourth, Gail Collins is a smart woman. “Remind me again why we aren’t fighting global warming? It’s win-win. Even if all the hordes of scientists are wrong in believing that human beings are causing climate change, the remedies would still be good for the environment and for energy independence.” Amen! The only thing that I would add, is that if global warming is a natural phenomenon, wouldn’t it be a great idea not to make it worse?

Finally, George Will. A few months ago, I was frustrated by a column he wrote on abortion rights where he claimed that in the Roe decision, the Supreme Court found a constitutional right to abortion in the penumbras of emanations of the Bill of Rights. I’m sorry, but that is just factually incorrect. Today, he says this: “If unemployment is above 9 percent in 2012, almost any Republican can win, and if there is a convincing recovery the party had better nominate someone who can energize the base.”

I think is wrong on this statement, too. Energizing the existing base is not going to be enough. Sarah Palin energized the Republican Base in 2008. That didn’t work out so well for the Republicans. Sarah Palin continues to energize what passes for the Republican Base today. Anyone who can energize the existing base of the GOP is going to scare away all the moderates, and if there is a convincing recovery, the GOP is going to need all the moderates it can get if they are to have any hope of winning.

Mr. Will supports his position with this fact: “Social conservatives are much of that base, are feeling neglected and are looking for someone like Santorum.” Let’s take that as true. Those social conservatives are not numerous enough to tip the scale, even if you “energized” them all into the voting booth. Republicans need a bigger base if they want to be a force in the future.

As a moderate, I can tell you that the Republican party is doing a lousy job of trying to woo me for my vote. The Democrats are doing much better.