When we look to Wisconsin, we note that the inversion is not entirely symmetrical. Although the public sector unions function like medieval palatinates, autonomous power centers whose primary motive is to retain their privileges while interfering in matters of state, they have the backing of a significant corps of activist members who are themselves not averse to breaking the law when it suits them. So in a sense these unions do represent their members’ interests, as well as defending the perquisites of their own controlling hierarchies.
Nonetheless, things have changed dramatically. Public sector unions have now becomes adjuncts of one or another political party, raising money for their benefactors and electioneering on their behalf: in Quebec and the ROC (Rest of Canada), the affiliation is with the socialist-leaning, anti-Israel parties; in the U.S., they have become strong contributing factors to the Democrats, if not a wing of the party itself. The thuggish spectacle of these unions and their collaborators in Madison, Wisconsin, disrupting the public square, occupying the state Capitol, issuing death threats against fiscally responsible legislators and holding the law in contempt is only a sign that they have outlived their usefulness and have become, not genuine defenders of workers’ rights, but a destabilizing menace to the public weal.
All human institutions naturally deteriorate in the course of time and conclude by abusing the mission they had initially espoused. And at such times, courage and hard thinking are needed to ensure renewal of original purpose and a return to founding principle. This is certainly true of the teachers’ unions in the U.S., once necessary and beneficial, which have degenerated to such an extent that their core function is no longer to improve the pedagogical milieu while providing a decent living, but to exploit the taxpayer, to expand their entitlements and exemptions, and to preserve the conditions under which not merit but mediocrity increasingly flourishes. This is why their power needs to be curtailed and their organizing principles rethought.
Unions—and today we refer chiefly to public sector unions—were not meant to be political mini-parties manipulating campaign funds or adopting foreign policy initiatives. They were not designed to be power blocs profiting at the expense of society at large. And they were certainly not commissioned to serve as a presidential militia or a revolutionary vanguard determined to unleash, as Liz Blaine puts it, “a multi-pronged attack to undermine America’s democratic process and its financial and economic stability using class and race warfare.” As Roger Kimball writes, the real issue is not “whether public employees should have the right to bargain collectively, but whether public employees should be answerable to the people or to the party they helped elect.” These unions have now become the bane of public life and it is time that government—that is, decent, sensible and trustworthy government—acts to rein in their profligacy, their wayward independence and their autocratic methods.
Such a responsible administration, at whatever level it exercises its mandate, would not follow the draconian route adopted by the Quebec government of yore. It would work within the framework of legality since it has the tools at its disposal to rectify the flagrant abuse of union power. Unlike the Quebec government, it has reason and right on its side. Of course, there will always be the local versions of Yvon Charbonneau to contend with, such as the Democratic senators in Wisconsin who fled the scene in order to stymie debate, Secretary of State Doug La Follette who put off signing the government bill into law and District Attorney Ismael Ozanne and Judge Maryann Sumi who issued restraining orders based on a technicality. We see similar tactics currently at work in Indiana where House Democrats have staged an exodus to prevent a quorum.
Even so, despite the sound and fury, the illegal flight of legislators, the massive propaganda onslaughts and public dissidence, all that is needed is the mettle, resolve and integrity that Governor Scott Walker has shown thus far to carry out the long-deferred reformation of syndicalist policy.