Wisconsin, FDR, Public Sector Workers and Stimulus

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 23rd, 2011

FDR Opposed Collective Bargaining Rights for Public Sector Workers

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt wrote a letter to Luther Steward, the president of the National Federation of Public Employees.  The subject was collective bargaining rights for public sector workers.  He was opposed to the idea (see FDR vs. Wisconsin Teachers by Quin Hillyer posted 2/18/2011 on The Washington Times).

All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service…

Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of government employees… 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.

FDR, the patron saint of Big Government liberalism, was against the notion of public sector unions.  Funny.  You’d think a guy like FDR would have been in favor of public unions.  He supported other unions.  But not public sector unions.  I wonder why.

Taxpayers don’t make good Bad Guys

Well, FDR was a master of class warfare.  His enemy were the royalists.  That’s what he called the rich fat cats in those days.  Those barons of industry that exploited the working class.  And it was an effective strategy.  Especially during the Great Depression.  People standing in breadlines while the rich were living well as if there was no Great Depression?  That’s polarizing.  So attacking them worked.  Everyone got on board, eager to attack anyone who was living better than they were. 

And here is why FDR was against public sector unions.  The bad guy in the equation.  You see, public sector unions wouldn’t be fighting rich fat cats of industry.  They’d be fighting the taxpayer (see F.D.R. Warned Us by James Sherk posted 2/19/2011 on Heritage’s The Foundry).

The founders of the labor movement viewed unions as a vehicle to get workers more of the profits they help create. Government workers, however, don’t generate profits. They merely negotiate for more tax money. When government unions strike, they strike against taxpayers. FDR considered this “unthinkable and intolerable.”

You see, it’s hard to get sympathy when you attack John Q. Public as being greedy.  Especially when those public sector union members are living better lives than those paying them.

Then there is the whole philosophy thing.  Shareholders meet union leaders to collective bargain.  The shareholders have a say in the use of their money.  In the public sector this is not the case.  It’s the taxpayer’s money that the government and unions meet to divvy up.  Without the consent of the taxpayer.  That’s a lot like taxation without representation.  Something that I’m pretty sure this country was against at one time.

Government collective bargaining means voters do not have the final say on public policy. Instead their elected representatives must negotiate spending and policy decisions with unions. That is not exactly democratic – a fact that unions once recognized.

So FDR opposed collective bargaining rights for public sector workers.  And the public sector workers didn’t have these rights for a long time.

Up through the 1950s, unions widely agreed that collective bargaining had no place in government. But starting with Wisconsin in 1959, states began to allow collective bargaining in government. The influx of dues and members quickly changed the union movement’s tune, and collective bargaining in government is now widespread. As a result unions can now insist on laws that serve their interests – at the expense of the common good.

And that’s how things changed.  Money.  Big money.  By creating an aristocracy (public sector workers), the ruling elite has a steadfast constituency.  And the bigger the unions get the more dues they collect.  That dues money than can be used to support political candidates that support this aristocracy.  In exchange for this support the government protects this aristocracy.  Much like unions claim Republicans do with Big Business.  Only worse.  Because Big Business at least creates jobs.  Public sector workers don’t produce anything but deficits.

The Public Sector Exploits the Taxpayer

There’s a good piece in the Wall Street Journal that quotes some Big Government liberals. Two of them, Paul Krugman and Kevin Drum, support the unions in Wisconsin as if they are on the last line of defense.  Before Big Business tramples all of our rights (see The Means of Coercion by James Taranto posted 2/22/2011 The Wall Street Journal).

In any case, it seems to have escaped Krugman’s and Drum’s notice that the Wisconsin dispute has nothing to do with corporations. The unions’ antagonist is the state government. “Industrial unions are organized against the might and greed of ownership,” writes Time’s Joe Klein, a liberal who understands the crucial distinction. “Public employees unions are organized against the might and greed . . . of the public?”

The “labor movement” in America has increasingly come to consist of people who work for government, not private companies. As the BLS notes, the union-participation rate for public-sector workers in 2010 was 36.2%, vs. just 6.9% for private-sector workers.

That’s quite a differential between the public and private sector.  And do you know why?  Because that’s all the private sector can support.  Because there is competition in the private sector.  Just look at the automotive industry.  The cost of union labor sent a lot of new auto plants to the right-to-work states in the south.  It ain’t the Seventies anymore in the automotive world.  There’s choice.  But in the public sector it’s still the seventies.  There is no choice.  No competition.  Pay and benefits come from tax dollars.  And they just keep raising our taxes.  By exploiting the taxpayer.

Here is the contradiction of progressivism. Progressives tell us they want the government to do more. But they can’t win elections without public-sector unions. Because they are beholden to those unions, their main priority when in power is to increase the cost, not the scope, of government. Because resources are finite, the result is the worst of both worlds: a government that taxes more without doing more. This is unsustainable economically. Fortunately, as Wisconsin voters showed last November, it’s unsustainable politically as well.

So taxes go up and what do we get?  Only higher paid public sector workers.

Obama’s Stimulus for Public Sector Workers

Let’s go back in time.  To the big stimulus bill to keep unemployment under 8%.  For all of those shovel-ready infrastructure jobs.  Well, the money went out.  And here we are a couple of years later and the economic news is actually worse.  So what happened to that money (see State public-sector jobs benefit most from stimulus by Dave Umhoefer and Patrick Marley posted on 10/13/2009 on Journal Sentinel)?

Three-fourths of 8,284 stimulus-related jobs accounted for so far were public-sector posts protected by the federal infusion into state and local government coffers, Gov. Jim Doyle’s office reported.

That included teachers, police officers and other government workers.

Shovel-ready jobs my Aunt Fanny.  That money went to take care of the aristocracy.  For it was, after all, their union dues and activism that got Obama elected.  So the stimulus was nothing more than back scratching.  As in you scratch mine and I’ll scratch yours.

The main effect of the stimulus money that went to state and local governments was to prop up health care and education spending so the state could balance its budget without huge tax increases, [John] Koskinen [of the state Department of Revenue] said.

Health care and education.  Translation?  Generous health care benefits for public sector workers.  And generous pay and benefits for public school teachers.

The state used $632 million of the federal funds to help fill a giant budget hole. Supporters said that helped the overall economy by keeping people employed and saving essential government services; critics said it allowed the state to avoid making tough spending decisions.

States and cities everywhere are facing huge financial shortfalls.  Their budgets are breaking them.  Specifically, their public sector contracts are breaking them.  Generous health care benefits.  And generous pensions.  So it’s no surprise that the so called stimulus wasn’t stimulus.  It simply subsidized highly paid public sector workers during bad economic times.  

The public would not have supported a bill to reward the generosity of public sector workers for their help in the 2008 election.  So they called it a stimulus bill.  And lied to John Q. Public. 

The Greed of the Public Sector

The crisis in Wisconsin threatens the aristocracy.  There a privileged elite wants to continue to live better than those who pay their salary and benefits.  It’s not about evil corporations.  Or the kids.  It’s about the greed of the public sector.  And a government who needs them (and our tax dollars that are laundered through them) to win elections. 

If they lose their right to collective bargain what happens?  Do they become oppressed workers exploited by the taxpayer?  Or do they become what FDR said they should be?  Good public servants.  Who work for the people.  And not the other way around. 

Let’s hope it turns out the way FDR would have wanted it to in Wisconsin.

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