Newly elected Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s attempts to strip his state’s public service unions of their collective bargaining powers pale in comparison to the terrible and inspiring scenes of revolution from abroad. Nonetheless, the recent turmoil in Wisconsin might well be the dawn of a new age in American politics.
I find Scott Walker’s barefaced attempts to destroy these unions disgraceful and dishonest (if the Gov. truly believed state employees must sacrifice their place at the negotiating table, then why did he exclude the law enforcement and fire-fighting unions that endorsed him in last fall’s election?). Yet, despite the many reasons I should find common cause with hardworking people standing up to free-market fundamentalism, I cannot help but wonder if the trickle-down-theory fanatics might be on to something.
Extreme cases of unions abusing their power are illustrated when the government, who is supposed to be the neutral mediator between ownership and labor, gives in on either side of that barricade. Our own state of California reveals how corrupt this process can become. No power in California compares to that wielded by the state’s corrections officers unions. They have utilized both the proposition system and traditional lobbying to ensure not only generous salaries and benefits for themselves, but that the jails they run are supplied by a steady stream of drug users, three-strikers, and other unfortunates caught up in a system both parties agree is in need of serious reform. The unfounded worry that inmates will be running the asylum doesn’t begin to justify the inherent injustice of corrections officers supplanting their pay by cynically campaigning to ensure more of their neighbors lose their freedom.
An example of an immovable force opposing positive labor reform is teachers’ unions. In a piece from last year, The New Yorker tracked the efforts of Michael Bloomberg to reform his city’s schools by utilizing the novel tactic of removing bad teachers from the classroom. The intense and unyielding opposition of the educators’ union meant that the Mayor could not fire even the most ineffectual of employees without a glacially slow system of appeals and hearings. So, in order to prevent them from doing any more damage while their terminations were processed, he stuck the bad apples in a place called the “rubber room” where they spent weeks, months, even years earning full salaries, benefits, and pensions for literally doing nothing.
With that said, unions can and have been powerful forces for progress in America. Walter Reuther and his United Autoworkers and George Meany and his AFL-CIO helped build momentum for some of the great social advances in the twentieth century. It was the Pullman Porters lead by Asa Phillip Randolph who funded and found men like Martin Luther King Jr., to lead the long and torturous battle for civil rights.
I hope the Wisconsin protestors and their fugitive state senators defeat their governor’s shallow attempts to return their state to the days of “robber barons”. But if Governor Walker does succeed in breaking the power of the public service unions, what happens in the land of milk and incalculable obesity might well be an inspiration to thinkers on both sides of the aisle.
Editor-in-Chief: Heather Spellacy
Chief Copy-Editor: Natalie Cappetta
Opinion Editor: Vicente Patino