If anyone thought that unions were paragons of democracy, the display in Madison this week has been instructive. Their protests have given their Democratic allies in the Wisconsin state senate an excuse to abandon representative democracy rather than abide by the results of an election less than four months earlier, and protesters hold signs comparing newly-elected Republican Scott Walker to dictators such as Hosni Mubarak and Adolf Hitler for the crime of proposing changes in the law which he promised during the election campaign. The Wall Street Journal argues today that the spectacle in Wisconsin shows that unions are interested in only one thing — power:
The reality is that the unions are trying to trump the will of the voters as overwhelmingly rendered in November when they elected Mr. Walker and a new legislature. As with the strikes against pension or labor reforms that routinely shut down Paris or Athens, the goal is to create enough mayhem that Republicans and voters will give up.
While Republicans now have the votes to pass the bill, on Thursday Big Labor’s Democratic allies walked out of the state senate to block a vote. Under state rules, 20 members of the 33-member senate must be present to hold a vote on an appropriations bill, leaving the 19 Republicans one member short. By the end of the day some Democrats were reported to have fled the state. So who’s really trying to short-circuit democracy?
Unions are treating these reforms as Armageddon because they’ve owned the Wisconsin legislature for years and the changes would reduce their dominance. Under Governor Walker’s proposal, the government also would no longer collect union dues from paychecks and then send that money to the unions. Instead, unions would be responsible for their own collection regimes. The bill would also require unions to be recertified annually by a majority of all members. Imagine that: More accountability inside unions.
It’s not just the unions, either. The Democratic Party has helped push this protest within the DNC, while President Obama tried to fire up his supporters — with misinformation, as it turned out (emphasis mine):
The protests have an orchestrated quality, and sure enough, the Politico website reported yesterday that the Democratic Party’s Organizing for America arm is helping to gin them up. The outfit is a remnant of President Obama’s 2008 election campaign, so it’s also no surprise that Mr. Obama said yesterday that while he knows nothing about the bill, he supports protesters occupying the Capitol building.
“These folks are teachers, and they’re firefighters and they’re social workers and they’re police officers,” he said, “and it’s important not to vilify them.” Mr. Obama is right that he knows nothing about the bill because it explicitly excludes police and firefighters. We’d have thought the President had enough to think about with his own $1.65 trillion deficit proposal going down with a thud in Congress, but it appears that the 2012 campaign is already underway.
The standoff in Madison could become a seminal moment in American politics. At stake is control over public policy. Will that control go to the voters who rejected years of Democratic policies that brought huge budget deficits in Wisconsin thanks to pandering to public-sector unions, or to the unions who need to perpetuate those policies in order to get the cash necessary to wield power? Will Wisconsin have a representative government at all, or merely a rubber stamp for union bosses?
That same fight will soon come to Washington as well. The kind of cuts in federal spending necessary to get the US out of deficits will require a significant reduction in bureaucratic jobs. Unions will resist this as much as they currently are fighting to maintain the unsustainable status quo in Madison. Congress will have to eventually ask itself whether America has a representative democracy, or if Congress exists as a puppet for unions to manipulate.
The Journal calls this the Battle of Mad Town, but that will be merely one front in a broader fight to return to fiscal sanity and actual representative democracy. Fortunately, you can tell who the good guys are in this fight. They’re the ones who don’t run away in an effort to deny voters the policies for which they voted in the last election.