Over at Townhall Jeff Jacoby has a wrap-up from Wisconsin on the two takeaways from the election last week. The second is, in my opinion, the biggie:
The most important of Walker’s reforms, the change Big Labor had fought most bitterly, was ending the automatic withholding of union dues. That made union membership a matter of choice, not compulsion — and tens of thousands of government workers chose to toss their union cards. More than one-third of the American Federation of Teachers Wisconsin membership quit, reported The Wall Street Journal. At the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, one of the state’s largest unions, the hemorrhaging was worse: AFSCME’s Wisconsin rolls shrank by more than 34,000 over the past year, a 55 percent nose-dive.
But plummeting enrollment isn’t the real win (emphasis mine):
There was a time when pro-labor political leaders like Franklin D. Roosevelt and Fiorello LaGuardia regarded it as obvious that collective bargaining was incompatible with public employment. Even the legendary AFL-CIO leader George Meany once took it for granted that there could be no “right” to bargain collectively with the government.
When unions bargain with management in the private sector, both sides are contending for a share of the private profits that labor helps produce — and both sides are constrained by the pressures of market discipline. Managers can’t ignore the company’s bottom line. Unions know that if they demand too much they may cost the company its competitive edge.
But when labor and management bargain in the public sector, they are divvying up public funds, not private profits. Government bureaucrats don’t have to worry about losing business to their competitors; state agencies can’t relocate to another part of the country. There is little incentive to hold down wages and benefits, since the taxpayers who will be picking up the tab have no seat at the table. On the other hand, government managers have a powerful motivation to yield to government unions: Union members vote, and their votes can be deployed to reward politicians who give them what they want — or punish those who don’t.
I hope we’ve finally come to our senses.