I had been expecting it, but when it finally came it was far worse than I had feared. I could scarcely believe my eyes.
The message that appeared in my email in-box Thursday evening came from the board of directors of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union that represents rank-and-file LAPD officers, of which I have been a member for many years. It was an email version of the latest post on the LAPPL Blog, and it began thus: “The attack on Wisconsin workers is an attack on union members across the nation.”
A bit hyperbolic, perhaps, but no big surprise so far. The League has for some time been engaged in a preemptive campaign against legislation here in California that is in any way similar to that which has caused the recent furor in Wisconsin. (Such a law is all but unthinkable here in Democrat-controlled California, but one must be vigilant nonetheless.)
But in later paragraphs the directors took their appeal a bit farther. Too far, apparently, for many of their members. “As widely covered by the media in recent weeks,” they wrote, “Wisconsin’s Republican governor, Scott Walker, is moving to strip the majority of non-safety public employees of most of their collective bargaining rights. The shocking plan has prompted massive protests and a walkout by Democratic lawmakers there, and has led to increasingly large rallies across the nation.”
I must point out there is nothing particularly shocking about what Gov. Walker and the Republican majority in the Wisconsin legislature seek to accomplish, especially given that they campaigned and won election largely on their vow to curb state spending and close a looming deficit. They are merely trying to do as officeholders what they promised to do as candidates (which, on reflection, is shocking enough in itself). And it is troubling that we as police officers were being asked to endorse the lawless actions of the 14 Wisconsin state Senate Democrats who bugged out like a bunch of crooks with the cops at the door rather than allow the democratic process to unfold. Elections have consequences, I suppose, unless you can take it on the lam and prevent them.
The directors went on to express their condemnation for the growing campaign to deny collective bargaining rights to public sector employees, a position which, no doubt to a man, their members surely share. All of this would hardly have been worth comment had they stopped there.
There then came this paragraph:
At noon local time on Saturday, February 26, MoveOn.org will hold rallies in front of every statehouse and in every major city to stand in solidarity with the people of Wisconsin. Find a Rally to Save the American Dream near you by visiting the website and entering your zip code. You can also show your support by sending words of encouragement to Wisconsin’s workers via a special website created by the SEIU.
What? MoveOn.org? The SEIU? And they were asking cops to march in this parade? Surely this had to be some kind of elaborate Internet hoax.
And it got worse. If you dared to click on the link to find a rally, you learned that in addition to MoveOn.org and the SEIU, the events were to be sponsored by National People’s Action, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, USAction, the Daily Kos, Media Matters, and every other leftist fringe cabal this side of the Socialist Workers Party. The post concluded with a stirring exhortation: “Our brothers and sisters in Wisconsin are under attack. They need and deserve our support. The time to pull together is NOW.” They might have gone with something a bit punchier, like “Workers of the world, unite!”
It was no hoax. Would that it had been.
And how the phones must have been ringing in the League offices Thursday evening. The post soon had more than 25 comments (the typical post on the site receives no more than one or two), the overwhelming majority of which expressed opposition to making common cause with organizations most police officers finds repellent. “LAPD officers aligned with MoveOn.org?” wrote the first to weigh in. “Now I’ve seen everything!” “So now we hook up with the mob?” wrote another. “Are you crazy?”
The objections were heard, and on Friday morning an update was appended to the post. “Maybe we weren’t clear,” it began. “The issue is not about supporting MoveOn.org as an organization, it is about protecting the collective bargaining process and supporting those who are fighting to protect it in Wisconsin . . . .”
But apparently that incremental retreat didn’t calm the voices rising up against the League’s directors, and on Friday afternoon the post was changed yet again, with the update appearing in bold, italicized type right at the top. “Our intention in the blog below,” it read, “was not to ask members or retirees to align themselves with a group or organization whose overall philosophy they disagree with. The paragraph about MoveOn.org and SEIU was not intended to be an encouragement to participate; it was meant to provide information on the far-reaching effects of the debate and concerns. However, these groups are at the forefront of the fight to protect collective bargaining, and as a Board, we do support any effort to preserve it so that our legal rights in California are not eroded . . . .” The post that followed was identical to the original except that the paragraph mentioning the MoveOn.org-sponsored rally and the SEIU website, which clearly was intended to be an “encouragement to participate,” had been removed.
All of which points to the quandary now facing union representatives for police officers across the country. Cops are all but universally conservative, yet in order to be effective their union representatives must maintain cordial relationships with the liberal politicians that dominate municipal governments. But in maintaining those cordial relationships there can be a tendency to adopt the views of those whose favor they seek. Their role as advocates for their members requires them to immerse themselves in politics, which their members find distasteful. But the more deeply immersed in politics they get, the more distance they place between themselves and those they represent.
Without commenting on any particular member of the Protective League’s current board of directors, I can describe a process I’ve observed many times in my career with the LAPD. There are a variety of reasons why a police officer might choose to run for office with the League, but once he wins that office he begins the metamorphosis that changes him from cop to Union Guy. The degree of change varies among individuals, but once in office for some time the League director is almost invariably more recognizable as a Union Guy than as a cop. As proof of this, it’s almost unheard of for a League director to leave office voluntarily and resume duties as a police officer. Rather, like the politicians with whom they mingle, they take advantage of their incumbency and cling to their office with the steadfastness of a pope, using the political connections they’ve made to ease themselves into some comfortable government job once they’ve retired from the police department. As Jesse Jackson has proved with stunning clarity, mouthing support for the Working Man can be a great way to avoid actually being one.
Which helps to explain how we in the LAPD found ourselves being, yes, encouraged to pick up a picket sign and march alongside a bunch of leftist kooks and government bureaucrats to demand our slice of the pie, this under the dubious theory that these leftist kooks and government bureaucrats can in some way be described as our “brothers and sisters.”
They are not our brothers and sisters, they are our competitors for resources to be drawn from a shrinking public fisc. And it is shrinking due in large part to the liberal policies advocated by MoveOn.org, the SEIU, and all the other organizations under whose banners we were asked to march on Saturday. I did not march, and I doubt many of my colleagues did, either.
But while I refuse to link arms with MoveOn.org, I also disagree with conservatives such as Jonah Goldberg (to whom I am indebted for opening the door to me over at National Review Online) who advocate for the elimination of public employee unions. Writing in the Los Angeles Times last Tuesday, Goldberg described private sector unions as having arisen out of the struggle between business owners and the workers from whose sweat they derived their riches and whom they exploited in the pursuit of greater profits. “It’s been said,” wrote Goldberg, “that during World War I, U.S. soldiers had better odds of surviving on the front lines than miners did in West Virginia coal mines.” Public sector workers, he says, have no similar history of oppression by their employers.
Which is true, as far as it goes, but it ignores the adversarial relationship rank-and-file police officers often have with both their own management and the city governments that employ them. True, on a typical work day we’re at little risk of a mine shaft cave-in, but we live with the fairly constant peril of getting the shaft from our bosses. Only the protections we have gained through collective bargaining prevent those bosses from making our working conditions intolerable.
And then there is the more basic, even conservative principle that labor is at bottom a commodity, one that is traded at prices determined by the market. Police officers, firefighters, teachers, and what have you should have the right to choose those who will negotiate a fair price for their labor on their behalf.
But I do share with Goldberg the concern that the relationship between government workers and elected officials has devolved into what amounts to a political perpetual-motion machine: the money goes in here and comes out there, then it turns around and goes in and out again until everyone gets a taste and goes home fat and happy. It’s all hunky-dory until, as is the case now, the money dries up and the Gravy Train reaches the end of the line.
If police officers are to have any credibility in the coming struggle over collective bargaining, it will not come through marching with leftist thugs and other rent-seekers hoping not to be nudged away from their comfortable spot at the public teat. The proposed Wisconsin law wisely exempts police officers and firefighters because most people, in recognizing and honoring the sacrifices they make in their professions, will choose to reward those sacrifices as generously as possible under current economic conditions.
But if we present ourselves as nothing more than another interest group hoping to insulate ourselves from the economic downturn even as those who pay the taxes that support us are doing with less, we will be treated as such – and deserve to be.