John Stossel reports on the forced unionization of day-care centers in Flint, Michigan:

Michelle Berry runs a day-care business out of her home in Flint, MI. She thought that she owned her own business, but Berry’s been told she is now a government employee and union member. It’s not voluntary. Suddenly, Berry and 40,000 other Michigan private day-care providers have learned that union dues are being taken out of the child-care subsidies the state sends them. The “union” is a creation of AFSCME, the government workers union, and the United Auto Workers.

Stossel explains that AFSCME receives about $3.7 million from the Department of Human Services. It achieved its conquest of the Michigan day-care industry through a mail-in vote, which included votes from only 6,000 of the 40,000 day-care providers in the state. You can expect much more aggressive unionizing if some version of the Card Check bill ever manages to slither past Congress.

The current tribute unions demand from their Democrat servants is the “High Road Contracting Policy,” which would give preference for federal contracts to companies that pay a government-defined “living wage,” which would be suspiciously close to the wages unions already demand for their members. As with all subsidies, this living wage would be extracted from the pockets of taxpayers, who will be expected to go on living while their take-home wages shrink, and their jobs evaporate.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the concept of private-sector labor unions. Every worker is the vendor of his own time, and since individuals have the right of free association, there’s nothing immoral about a group of people with related skills banding together to engage in collective bargaining. Over the past century, however, unions have bathed in the radiation of centralized State power, and mutated from defensive alliances of exploited workers, into de facto arms of the government.

In order to prosper, a union requires two essential advantages: solidarity and exclusivity. Solidarity means the members of the union must remain loyal, provide a steady stream of funding through payment of dues, and obey the instructions of the union leadership. There’s not much power to be gained from calling a strike, if half the union membership decides to go into work anyway, and collective bargaining agreements must be honored with minimal debate.

Unions also require privileged access to labor markets, or else independent workers willing to hire on for lower wages will undercut them. A company paying for expensive union labor cannot compete with an open shop that doesn’t have to pay artificially high wages, or provide elaborate benefits. A union could gain exclusivity by providing a vastly superior work product, providing value equal to their high wages. Naturally, the public-relations arms of labor unions like to claim this is the way they operate… but in the real world of 2010, it’s rarely the case.

There is a much easier way for unions to gain exclusive control of labor markets: they can barter the money and voting power they gain from the solidarity of their membership, to politicians with a ravenous appetite for these delicacies. In exchange, the politicians can use the compulsive power of the State to create monopoly playgrounds for the unions. The teachers’ unions are a particularly grotesque example, pushing an obviously inferior work product onto a captive population of students, while politicians patrol the schoolyard fence with truncheons of rolled-up campaign donations.

The National Education Association is the largest union in America, and one of its most powerful political forces, donating millions to Democrat candidates and spending millions more in lobbying… including over a million dollars in donations to the criminal organization ACORN over the last two years. The NEA also provides invaluable political indoctrination, inserting propaganda for statist causes like global warming into education curricula. In exchange, the Democrats are universally sworn to oppose vouchers and school privatization, no matter how much it hurts other constituencies they profess to care about.  There are many fine teachers among the ranks of the NEA, but their individual merits vanish beneath the vast corruption of the union establishment.

We’ve also seen billions of taxpayer dollars spent to bail out General Motors, for the benefit of the labor unions whose parasitic embrace ended its free-market life. The unions set a wage level that rendered GM unable to turn a profit, becoming what Mark Steyn describes as “a vast welfare plan with a tiny loss-making commercial sector.” Every American taxpayer was fleeced by the Obama Administration to rescue the unions from the consequences of their actions. Why should they mediate their demands or become competitive with independent labor, when they can hire politicians to follow them around with a club in one hand, and lifesaving cash transfusions in the other?

These events are entirely predictable, because where the supply of votes and political cash from unions meets the demand from Big Government, a transaction is bound to occur. In a centralized state, the power of a political collective is vastly greater than individuals, or most corporations. Plenty of big companies spend cash buying political influence, producing all manner of mischief… but they can’t deliver the kind of packaged voting power that a labor union or racial grievance organization can provide, because they cannot compel – or even encourage – their employees to vote a certain way. The NEA and AFSCME have a lot more than dollars to spend in the political marketplace.

This kind of thing is inevitable, as long as we allow political control over industry, and place huge amounts of tax money in the hands of our government. The depth of corruption can be measured with the value of a congressional vote… or the presidential seal. Despite its overwhelming presence in every aspect of our daily lives, Big Government acquires many characteristics of anarchy, in which the diminishing resources of a moribund economy become the spoils for feuding warlords. One of the hallmarks of civilization is that no one should ever discover they have involuntarily been conscripted into a gang, or the government that increasingly resembles one.

Cross-posted at www.doczero.org.

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