Tuesday, January 25, 2011

How Public Unions Took Taxpayers Hostage

Fred Seigel with the Manhattan Institute provides a short history of the public sector union movement in The Wall Street Journal today.  "How Public Unions Took Taxpayers Hostage" provides historical  context as how the current system evolved as a political decision rather than one that involved any aspect of worker rights.  In fact, liberal luminaries such as Franklin Roosevelt and Fiorello LaGuardia were very skeptical of public sector unionism for the simple reason that it threatened the broad needs of the citizenry.
Liberals were once skeptical of public-sector unionism. In the 1930s, New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia warned against it as an infringement on democratic freedoms that threatened the ability of government to represent the broad needs of the citizenry. And in a 1937 letter to the head of an organization of federal workers, FDR noted that "a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable."
This thinking ended in the early 1960's as the Democrats decided that the political advantage of having the political and fundraising power of these unions behind them outweighed any concerns about taxpayers and the broader citizenry.

Seigel argues that the immense power that public unions hold will not be easily reversed.  However, it can and must be done if there is to be any hope of restoring fiscal sanity to many city, county and state budgets.
Restraining the immense clout that government-employee unions have accumulated over the past half-century will be difficult, but not impossible. Civil rights for African-Americans and women was a fulfillment of the universalist American promise as expressed in the Declaration of Independence. Collective bargaining by public employees was not rooted in deep-seated American tradition.
Instead, the decision to grant this privilege was a political decision designed to enhance the power of a pressure group whose interests, even many liberals assumed, would be at odds with those of the general public. Political decisions can be reversed.
We can only hope that he is right.

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