Sunday, January 2, 2011

[By Daniel Greenfield, crossposted from Sultan Knish.]

It is often forgotten that one of the causes of the evolution of the modern American urban union was the lawless suppression of workers by Democratic party affiliated political machines, and yet it did not take so very long before the union became an outgrowth of that same political machine. And having wiped out nearly every independent industry with which it was associated, the only unions still surviving are those in control of either municipal services or state subsidized service providers, particularly in the medical field.

If the union began as a way to negotiate salaries and working conditions between employers and workers, the modern day union is often little more than governments and their union supporters bleeding the public dry in order to subsidize a political party and a union leadership that brings in the votes for that party. The situation is most critical in California, but many state and city budgets are almost as badly strained by the combination of municipal union contracts and the subsidized services that they are associated with.

The recent lethal work slowdown by union members in New York City during the blizzard or the multimillion dollar media blitzes by California unions for Jerry Brown and New Jersey teacher's unions against Chris Christie is a harsh reminder of the utter greed and ruthlessness of the union's last stand, their death grip on public services fed by taxpayer money. These stands have little to do with worker's rights. They have next to nothing in common with the old union image of underpaid workers protesting outside of factories. It's still about exploitation, but it's about the exploitation of the public by a union-government political establishment.

As the bosses of old have given way to managers and then to politicians, the union bosses are the only bosses still in the game, who enjoy wealth and power far beyond those of the average taxpayer being fleeced without his or her consent. Union rhetoric may pretend that they are contending with mayors and governors, but in reality it's the public that they're really contending with. Their strikes have hardly any effect on the politicians, but target the public. And the money that they're paid with is the public's money. The New Jersey's teachers union real target was New Jersey homeowners who already pay the highest property taxes in the country. But when given a choice, homeowners across New Jersey said no to paying more property taxes into the union's pockets. And Governor Christie won so much acclaim, because he called the union on what it was doing and insisted that the voters should have a choice. But much of the time politicians are more than happy to give in.

Union negotiations with politicians that they help elect are a corrupt farce, because the money extracted from the public goes in part to the same politicians who decide whether to accept or reject their offer. In any law abiding system, this would be a tremendous conflict of interest, like sending in your bank's loan officer to act as your real estate broker. But under our current system it is actually commonplace for unions which live off contracts with politicians, to be able to fund and work to elect those same politicians. And it represents a level of corruption that makes the Pentagon's 100 dollar screws or the corporate tax shelters that liberal pundits complain about seem almost petty. And now entire states are collapsing under the weight of dirty contracts with unions that act like a Praetorian Guard, elevating and removing governors and mayors who displease them.

Governor Schwarzenegger went in as a reformer, but after losing a battle with California nurses unions turned into a Yes Man for Sacramento. His replacement, Governor Jerry Brown was elected with millions of dollars of union money. The California media has made much of how much Meg Whitman spent on her campaign, but Jerry Brown didn't have to spend much money on his campaign. The unions were out there doing it for him, with money extracted from a state budget in freefall. This arrangement under which a new governor, who has never held any job that was not on the public dole, got elected thanks to an arrangement with unions who live off the public dole.

If this was corrupt collusion between businesses and union bosses, as has often been the case with some unions such as SEIU, then the only victims would be union members. But this is corrupt collusion between union bosses and politicians, exchanging public money for political support. And not letting go even when the public is bleeding red and there's literally no more money to give.

Cartoon - Be Prepared (500)-1.jpg
It means that unions get paid, while state tax refunds to the public are delayed. Because the unions are always at the head of the line. When Governor Schwarzenegger tried to temporarily cut worker pay, State Controller John Chiang refused to comply. Chiang was also the man who decided that working families could wait for their tax refunds. And it's no wonder because John Chiang, the man with hands on the purse, was also elected by the same unions he's pandering to. California unions spent millions to put Chiang in place and more to keep reelecting him.

How long can the system go on before it breaks down? That doesn't really matter. Because the man at the top in Washington D.C. also got there through union backing. And ObamaCare exempts unions, but forces ordinary Americans to buy into a health care system whose contracts are negotiated to benefit unions. It's a safe bet that Barack Obama won't let Jerry Brown, John Chiang and their unions go under. Because his own reelection campaign depends on it. Money sent to California unions, is also money sent to the Campaign to Reelect Barack Obama. But it's also a safe bet that the California taxpayers won't just be the only ones hit with the bill. California may default on its debts, state bonds may prove worthless and the federal government may go on covering whatever entitlements funding is needed, but sooner or later the system will still break down. It will just be a national system, rather than a state one.

Political machines have robbed states and cities blind before, but in the 19th century they did not have access to a massive federal budget on this scale. Even President Martin Van Buren, a Tammany Hall man, could not command the kind of wealth and credit that Barack Obama does. President Buchanan might have helped cover up a murder by Congressman Sickles, one of his Tammany Hall favorites, who had been engaged in blatant corruption using government money, but even accounting for inflation, he could have never overseen a fraud and theft of this magnitude. The Pigford settlement alone makes Tammany Hall's worst crimes seem like small change, and yet it's far from the most notable misuse of money by this congress or administration.

Politicians and bureaucrats could and did steal, but there was a limit and scope to their theft. Those who stole too much would usually be brought down before they caused too much damage, and drove an outraged public to cut off the pipeline. Tammany Hall's leadership was repeatedly purged in just that fashion. But while the current union system is essentially a legal version of the old Tammany Hall system, in which municipal employees were obligated to pay "the ring" for their jobs, it has no more limits. Not even the bankruptcy of the system that it feeds off.

When the union is isolated enough and the public is desperately trying to make ends meet, then the unions may lose. That's what happened with the teacher's union in New Jersey. But when the unions are big enough and feed off a huge membership that knows it has no choice but to vote union, and the unions are closely tied up with an entitlements dependent electorate, then the system may be irreparable. And that is what happened in California. You can't fix a system like that, not without taking on millions of people who are robbing it blind. And that's not an election, it's a civil war.

In his own time as governor of New York and police commissioner of New York City, Theodore Roosevelt could not succeed in cleaning it up. And his many times removed cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt turned New York City's corruption into a national standard with the New Deal. Together with Tammany Hall's New York Senator Wagner, their National Labor Relations Act turned to compulsory unionization as a means of forcing workers into supporting the Democratic party, whether they wanted to or not. And by doing so, Wagner and FDR began the process of reclaiming the unions from the Communist party and organized crime, and integrating them into the nationwide structure of the Democratic party.

anti-union cartoon.png
FDR and Wagner were both New York politicians with a ground floor view on how its dirty politics worked. And the NLRB was not about worker representation, but about money and political power. It favored large unions with political affiliations, destroying small unions, and taking a Northeastern urban alliance between the political machine and the union bosses as its model. The workers were no longer being beaten by goons hired by their employers and the political machine's police. Now they were being beaten by goons hired by the union bosses and the political machine's police. Organized crime had always worked both sides of the aisle, playing for the highest bidder. The NLRB showed organized crime that unions were the future and industry was the past. But the politicians were ahead of them.

The union became a parasite and union jobs either went south or were outsourced. But the public sector union remained a tick fixed on the bloodstream of the public. You didn't have to be a factory owned to be drained by them. You didn't need to own a single share of stock. All you had to do was live and pay taxes in an area where public sector unions had gripped in their claws. The intersection of entitlements and public sector unions and political machines meant that money was being exchanged for political support, and the people outraged were not the ones that politicians cared about. They still made a show of driving a hard bargain, but more often they showed up at union conferences to loud cheers. Their old electorate paid taxes. Their new electorate gobbled them.

And that brings us back to 2011 where the oppressed worker is now the taxpayer, whose income and future are being garnished by unions. The poor man standing out in the rain is not the union employee, but the man waiting to collect another check, that will be torn apart and consumed by union bosses and politicians. Who will then protect those workers-- the people, from the unions?

"Syme: It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. You wouldn't have seen the [Newspeak] Dictionary 10th edition, would you Smith? It's that thick. [illustrates thickness with fingers] The 11th Edition will be that [narrows fingers] thick. Winston Smith: So, The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect? Syme: The secret is to move from translation, to direct thought, to automatic response. No need for self-discipline. Language coming from here [the larynx], not from here [the brain]" -1984 (film)


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