Unions: Theory vs. Practice

The Wisconsin fiasco has brought the issue of unions to the forefront. Public sector unions are the focus of what’s taking place in Wisconsin at the moment, but traditional unions have shown up to swell the ranks of protesters.

From some of my remarks about this situation, some readers may think I grew up in a mansion and in a family that got rich through business. Hardly. Both of my parents were members of unions where they worked in their blue-collar jobs. They both voted Democrat because that party was the union party. I do remember, though, a conversation with my dad toward the end of his working days where he questioned the wisdom of his union’s leaders. He was particularly perturbed with what he perceived to be their hotheadedness and impulsiveness to want to strike.

Theoretically, I understand the desire for unions. Since sin/selfishness is not the peculiar possession of one segment of the population, and since as a historian I know that abuses did exist in some industries, I can see why the factory workers wanted to band together to ensure fair treatment. That rationale works fine in theory.

Reality, though, is rather different. Unions have become, in many cases, their own power centers, often with more clout than the management of a company. Their propensity for strikes can lead to considerable damage to a company’s success. The irony here of course is that if the company fails, the workers fail as well.

Instead of being primarily a voice for the workers, too often unions have become adversaries, practically seeking an argument with management. They developed an us-versus-them mentality that does no good for either side.

As their power grew, they demanded that no one be allowed to work at their plants without joining the union. They also used union dues to fund political activities—activities that might be at odds with what many of the members actually support. Yet they won’t allow that portion of the dues to be withheld if someone does disagree with how the money is being used. Add to that the fact that the leaders of the unions have become moguls in their own right, far removed at times from the rank and file in their lifestyle.

In short, the union utopia envisioned by many has become a maltopia [I may have just coined a term].

What I’ve talked about thus far is private-sector unions. For a long time, no one, not even the liberal saint Franklin Roosevelt, believed that public-sector employees should be unionized. Above all, they should not be allowed to enter into collective bargaining. Their jobs in the government, whether federal or state, were deemed too important to allow strikes. If policemen, firefighters, or those who held sensitive positions in public safety could strike, it could lead to massive breakdowns in public order and lead to tragedies.

Even today, federal government employees do not have any privilege of collective bargaining. Their unions are not allowed this for the reason cited above. No one has any such “right.” Any time it might be allowed, it is a privilege, not a right, and allowing it in the first place was a mistake that has led to what is happening right now as protesters occupy the Wisconsin capitol, and do their best imitation of 1960s college students–hardly the best example of maturity. Their attitudes are pretty easy to lampoon:

Some have tried to compare their “plight” with the protesters in the Middle East. That comparison doesn’t work for me:

The media naturally come to the aid of the unions and do their best to depict this as a David vs. Goliath episode. Well, that’s partially correct, only you have to reverse the images being presented to get at the truth:

It’s time for the foolishness in Wisconsin to come to an end before someone is seriously injured or killed by the mob infesting the capitol building. It’s time for law and order to be restored. Above all, it’s time for Democrat senators in the state to act like grownups, take their seats, and allow the machinery of government to operate as it was intended.