The Great Fraud: Public Sector Bargaining Rights

The history of public sector unionization that the Left doesn't want you to know.

Bloated, rapacious, violent public employee unions indifferent to the suffering and social decay to which they contribute have been eating Wisconsin and other states alive for decades.

They’re not giving up their elite status without a massive fight and they don’t care if they take the whole nation down with them into the abyss. But Americans are watching their allies, the Democrats, closely. Whatever their feelings on unions, Americans are disgusted by the absconding Wisconsin state senators who fled in order to deprive their Republican opposition of the quorum needed for passing legislation.

The backlash against this anti-democratic stunt and against the unions’ legalized thuggery continues to build. Wisconsinites want their elected officials to balance the books, but the spendthrift unions won’t allow that to happen. Outraged that they may finally be held to account for their many abuses, participants in the labor movement are outraged and using the seductive language of rights to defend the fat cat government worker unions.

Of course, rights have nothing to do with this, but try saying so to a union true-believer without losing your front teeth.

Propagandists for compulsory unionism do not admit that from at least the days of the Communist Manifesto reasonable people have quite properly viewed labor syndicates with suspicion and sometimes horror. In the 19th century, strikes were largely considered to be criminal acts and labor unions were viewed as “conspiracies in restraint of free trade” that threatened to tear the fabric of the republic apart.

But the way the left tells the story, the collective bargaining “rights” that both private and public labor unions enjoy today were engraved on the stone tablets Moses carried down from Mount Sinai. This rhetoric, which masks the fact that these rights are actually privileges, has served the grasping racketeers of organized labor well over the years, even though it is predicated on a fraud.

That fraud is known as group “rights.” It is the idea that when a group of people get together they somehow magically gain rights that supersede the rights they hold as individuals. It is a lethal, misanthropic fallacy that negates the very spirit of 1776.

Contrary to the fairy tales told by leftist professors, the idea of group rights was antithetical to the Enlightenment-era thinking of the Framers. They understood that a collective right is not a right at all – except in the minds of those who have no understanding of rights. They would never have wanted to extinguish the right of individual workers to walk away from union-negotiated contracts. The Constitution mandated the most exquisite protection of individual rights and treated the right to enter into a contract, in particular, as sacrosanct. It was not created to protect what Mussolini later called corporatism.

But this all-American reverence for individual rights gave way to pressure over time. As organized labor became increasingly violent and troublesome, eventually, lawmakers grew weary of the unrest fomented by radical agitators. Worn-down, shell-shocked politicians purchased so-called labor peace by selling out the U.S. Constitution. How exactly did they betray it? They ignored the fact that America’s great national charter protects the right of individuals to freely associate with others. At the same time, it does not protect any purported group rights.

Although the Constitution does allow some regulation of commerce and commercial arrangements, such as contracts, the document does not give labor unions (or business corporations, for that matter) any kind of right to claim a government-enforced monopoly. Yet Congress has so distorted the plain meaning of the Constitution that lawmakers nowadays are perceived to be acting constitutionally when, in violation of basic free trade principles, they offer exemptions from antitrust regulations to certain privileged economic entities.

Exemptions have been handed out to the powerful. For example, Congress exempts Major League Baseball and health insurers from federal competition laws, which probably has something to do with why a ballpark beer can cost close to $10 and why health insurance premiums were skyrocketing long before Obamacare was rammed through the legislature. Amazingly enough, the ability of organized labor to use coercion is protected in statutes and regulations from Honolulu to Jefferson City to Boston.

Legislatures across the country have also gone out of their way to exempt labor unions from antitrust laws, which is one of the reasons they run wild today. It was a mistake, and it was compounded exponentially when policymakers decided to let government employees form unions, since public employee unions can never serve the public interest. As James Sherk of the Heritage Foundation notes:

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.

Public employee unions, which are always willing to collude with politicians against the common good, inexorably lead the jurisdictions they infest to fiscal ruin and discontent. Look across America. Look at strike-crazed Europe where socialism has never secured labor peace.

People on the left once understood the elegantly simple proposition that government unions are anti-democratic, tax-devouring scams. Even the labor-loving father of the New Deal, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, thought it “unthinkable and intolerable” for government employees to be able to go on strike against the citizenry. The legendary labor leader George Meany, who was president of the AFL-CIO concurred, saying, “it is impossible to bargain collectively with the government.”

In 1959, the Executive Council of the AFL-CIO explained the troubling constitutional ramifications of public sector unions in terms that would make current AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka’s heart sink. That body counseled that, “In terms of accepted collective bargaining procedures, government workers have no right beyond the authority to petition Congress — a right available to every citizen.”

Yet here we are. A community organizer and labor agitator is in the White House sending DNC-approved goon squads to Wisconsin to reinforce the dirty hippies and labor activists threatening Republican lawmakers with violence.

Leftists are so intent on defending what has become their beachhead in Madison that they have resorted to desperately contorted, absurd arguments. For example, millionaire leftist Michael Moore flew to the Wisconsin capital and made the nonsensical argument that the showdown with Republicans had something to do with wealthy people.

“The smug rich have overplayed their hand,” he said. “They had to strip us of our dignity. They had to shut us up and shut us down so that we could not even sit at a table with them and bargain about simple things like classroom size or bulletproof vests for everyone on the police force or letting a pilot just get a few extra hours sleep so he or she can do their job.”

Think what you will about Moore’s rant against “the rich” and corporate America but they are not parties to the dispute in Wisconsin. The argument is between tax-eating government employee unions and the taxpayers who are supposed to be their masters. No amount of grandstanding by a radical anti-American propagandist can change that fact.

In a sense the left’s break with reality is a good thing. As leftist hero Saul Alinsky taught, you can’t get anything done if you refuse to first accept the way things are right now. The labor movement is in complete and utter denial, unable to see the freight train of fiscal reality barreling down the tracks toward it, and there’s something really beautiful about that.

It’s going to be more difficult in the future for public sector unions to blackmail the people’s elected representatives and enrich themselves at taxpayer expense.

It may even help to save America.

Matthew Vadum is a journalist in Washington, D.C. His book on ACORN and its infiltration of the Obama administration will be published in mid-2011.