The PJ Tatler

'To save democracy,' or just the Democratic Party?

The unions and their allies have set up the budget battle in Wisconsin as nothing less than a struggle for the fate of democracy itself. Ann Althouse picked that up during her reporting in Madison over the weekend, while taking pictures of the trash the union protesters had left piled up around a veterans memorial:

A woman who does not have a Wisconsin accent noses in to tell me I’m “rude” to take pictures.

I say: “Let me ask you a question about ‘rudeness.’ This is a Veterans Memorial, for people who died in the war. These are all things…”

The rudeness expert interrupts me: “They do things for democracy, which is what we’re trying to save right now.”

Blogger Keith Olbermann sees the unions’ role in American life as similarly vital, when in an insufferably long-winded post he describes collective bargaining for public employees “one of the arch stones of democracy.” Isn’t it funny, that running away from votes is now saving democracy, when allowing a vote would amount to killing democracy.  And funnier, if the ability of government workers to engage in collective bargaining is such a fundamental part of democracy, the Constitution is strangely silent on it, and the federal government is downright hostile to it. Kimberly Strassel wrote a great piece about the gap between what government unions can do at the local and state level versus what they can’t do at the federal level. It’s a big gap.

Fact: President Obama is the boss of a civil work force that numbers up to two million (excluding postal workers and uniformed military). Fact: Those federal workers cannot bargain for wages or benefits. Fact: Washington, D.C. is, in the purest sense, a “right to work zone.” Federal employees are not compelled to join a union, nor to pay union dues. Fact: Neither Mr. Obama, nor the prior Democratic majority, ever acted to give their union chums a better federal deal.

Scott Walker, eat your heart out.

For this enormous flexibility in managing his work force, Mr. Obama can thank his own party. In 1978, Democratic President Jimmy Carter, backed by a Democratic Congress, passed the Civil Service Reform Act. Washington had already established its General Schedule (GS) classification and pay system for workers. The 1978 bill went further, focused as it was on worker accountability and performance. It severely proscribed the issues over which employees could bargain, as well as prohibited compulsory union support.

Olbermann and the unions have engaged in an act of substitution. When they say “saving democracy” or “arch stone of democracy,” the words “Democratic Party” should really apply. They’re trying to save the unions as an arch stone of the Democratic Party’s current fund raising system.

Just take a look at this map of right-to-work states vs forced unionization states. Right-to-work states have become harder and harder for Democrats to win in recent years, while Republicans have become gradually more competitive in the unionization states, such as Wisconsin. And take a look at this chart I posted on Friday, showing just how gaudy the major unions’ political spending is. I’m not suggesting an only cause here, that right-to-work = GOP majority — the fact is, the Democrats have moved farther left over the years on national security, economic and social policy, and that’s certainly the most important factor in where they are and aren’t competitive. But I think there is a linkage here.

To take one example, the National Education Association, aka the teachers’ union, enjoys the benefits of forced unionization wherever it can, and is about to double the member dues contribution to its political donating. They’re doing this both to cover recent budget shortfalls — thanks in part to the millions NEA spends to elect Democrats — and to make NEA an even larger player in Democratic politics. But the vast majority of that money ultimately comes from the taxpayers who pay the teachers’ salaries. And in many places, those union dues are taken out of teachers’ hands as payroll deductions before they ever get their paychecks, so the teachers never see the money the taxpayers approved for them. They’re forced to join the union or see their careers limited, they’re paying the union dues before they get paid themselves, and then the union turns around and uses their money to support politicians and causes that the teachers themselves may not actually support.

Going back to the chart linked above, NEA is a three-donkey organization, meaning their political leanings bury the needle on the Dem side. They don’t hedge their bets; they bet left every time. What happens to NEA if it’s suddenly a lot less relevant to the nation’s teachers, who are no longer forced to join, and who no longer need the union for collective bargaining? NEA and the DNC both evidently find this prospect terrifying.

So terrifying that, indirectly, they’re forcing taxpayers to foot some of the bill for the Wisconsin walkout:

Four Democrats who were reached by The Associated Press said none of their daily expenses would be charged to taxpayers, and none will accept any per diem funds. [State Sen. Chris] Larson did say his hotel room Monday was paid for by the State Senate Democratic Campaign. He said the group might pay for more nights depending on how long he stays.

Where does the State Senate Democratic Campaign get its money? It’s a fair bet that at least some of that money comes from the government unions, like the NEA, whose funds ultimately come from taxpayers. It’s certain that 13 of the 14 walkabout Democrats cannot afford not to do whatever the unions demand.