It's old news by now, but the Wisconsin Republicans figured out a way, by removing any appropriation of money from the bill stripping public-employee unions of their collective bargaining rights, to get it through the state senate without the quorum that had been denied them by the Democrats' flight to Illinois. The Democrats intend to challenge the constitutionality of the law, but I doubt they'll succeed. Meanwhile, organized labor vows revenge -- some too literally and personally for the federal government's taste -- but seems content to wait, not counting whatever recall efforts are under way, until next November. That is, they intend their revenge to be political, and they probably intend the Democratic party to be their instrument. That strategy strikes me as clueless. The unions must realize that their intimate alliance with the Democrats at least partly explains Republican hostility toward them. At the same time, it reflects a blind faith in Democrats that is probably unjustified. In our imminent age of austerity, public employees err in placing their faith in either major party. It's only a matter of time before Gov. Cuomo of New York or one of his Democratic peers elsewhere decides that cracking down on public employees would be both pragmatic and, alas, popular. What may be needed, alarming as it may sound to the rest of us, is a party of the bureaucracy, a labor party with public employees at its core but a commitment to restoring a sense of common cause to workers in public and private sector alike. For such a group, electoral politics should be practised alongside old-school labor militancy. It should not wait until next year to take action against its enemies. To wait until then to reassert its rights is a virtual capitulation to Gov. Walker. If the new law is such an offense as workers claim, it should be resisted now, and not exclusively through electoral channels.
Part of public employees' problem right now, I suspect, is that the rest of the public perceives them as part of the "political class." Just as there's hostility to the notion of "professional politicians" making a permanent living through elected offices, that hostility has probably bled over to color public employees as a parasite class, people assumed to make more than they're worth by exploiting politics while "we the taxpayers" suffer. It's as if we think no one should make a career of public service, as if public service can only corrupt a person, especially if that person gets some uppity sense of entitlement, some notion that he should get more than a minimal wage from a penny-pinching public. Maybe we should have rotation in office in the bureaucracy like we have in elected offices to keep most Americans happy, so you never have to give a public worker a raise. Since a desire to perform public service is probably suspicious, perhaps public workers should be recruited from the general workforce after the manner of the old military draft. They could be placed under quasi-military discipline, with collective bargaining out of the question once and for all. Maybe prisoners can do some of the work.
Do these modest proposals strike you as absurd? Maybe you'd rather concede that public employees have just as much right to make a secure living, and as much right to negotiate for decent working conditions, as other workers. Perhaps you'll allow that they shouldn't have less rights than other workers just because they work for taxpayers. You might even begin to think that quality of service should count more than cost, considering the essential work many public employees do. Don't you want the best public service possible? Doesn't that require incentives to attract the best people? Or do ordinary Americans share the sentiment once associated with one of the most hated American capitalists, who once said simply, "The public be damned!" The problem with such lofty thought is that the public isn't simply some "sector" of society. The public is all of us, and if you damn the public "sector," you damn yourselves, as time is sure to tell.