Sarah Palin offered advice to Wisconsin voters and union members from her Facebook platform late last night, urging people to stand up to union bullying. Palin also addressed part of her message to her “union brothers and sisters,” reminding them that Palin comes from a family of educators. She warns them that the entrenched position of the union will cost thousands of teachers their jobs, as the money runs out in Madison:
Here we are still struggling to get out of a deep recession and coping with high unemployment, record deficits, rapidly rising food prices, and a host of other economic problems; and Wisconsin union bosses want union members out in the streets demanding that taxpayers foot the bill for unsustainablebenefits packages. I am a friend to hard working union members and to teachers. I come from a family of teachers; my grandparents, parents, brother, sister, aunt, and other relatives worked, or still work, in education. My own children attend public schools. I greatly admire good teachers and will always speak up in defense of the teaching profession. But Wisconsin teacher unions do themselves no favor by closing down classrooms and abandoning children’s needs in protest against the sort of belt-tightening that people everywhere are going through. Union brothers and sisters: this is the wrong fight at the wrong time. Solidarity doesn’t mean making Wisconsin taxpayers pay for benefits that are not sustainable and affordable at a time when many of these taxpayers struggle to hold on to their own jobs and homes. Real solidarity means everyone being willing to sacrifice and carry our share of the burden. It does no one any favors to dismiss the sacrifices others have already had to make—in wage cuts, unpaid vacations, and even job losses—to weather our economic storm.
Hard working, patriotic, and selfless union brothers and sisters: please don’t be taken in by the union bosses. At the end of the day, they’re not fighting for your pension or health care plan or even for the sustainability of Wisconsin’s education budget. They’re fighting to protect their own powerful privileges and their own political clout. The agenda for too many union bosses is a big government agenda that only serves the union bosses themselves – not union members, not union families, and certainly not the larger community. Everybody else is just there to foot the bill; and if that bill eventually takes the form of thousands of teachers and other public sector workers losing their jobs because the state of Wisconsin can no longer afford to keep them on the payroll, that’s a risk the union bosses are willing to take as long as their positions are secure. Union brothers and sisters: you are better than this and you deserve better. Don’t be led astray.
I agree with Palin that for the rank and file of the union, this is the wrong fight at the wrong time, but for both unions and reformers, it could hardly be a better time to have this fight. Wisconsin is a pretty good place to have it as well. Democrats lost control of Madison in any part of government, as voters rejected the business as usual that Democrats represented. Having this fight in the cradle of progressivism makes a lot more sense, as Wisconsin voters finally came to realize the bankrupt policies and practices that progressivism demands — high government cost, sclerotic bureaucracies, and a devolution of power away from voters to union bosses that want to control both.
In another sense, though, the place is the least relevant part of this fight. Given the disaster that union contracts and especially pension plans have become in most states, we can expect to see this fight take place everywhere in the nation, including on the federal level. Unions have a conundrum in this crisis as well; the more they flex their muscles to maintain their status quo and block the serious downsizing that most people want government to conduct, the more it will expose their grip on politicians and make it even more urgent to dismantle their grip on power.
We have finally come in Madison to the basic question: will voters control government and public policy, or will the unions? Don’t kid yourselves into thinking the unions don’t understand that, either. They know exactly what’s at stake in the Battle of Mad Town, and that’s why they’re throwing everything they have into winning it.