Posted by Lex, on February 17, 2011
Last month, the Economist published an excellent cover story entitled “The Battle Ahead” about the impending battle governments will have to wage with public sector unions to ensure that, if taxes are indeed to be eaten by a professional class of bureaucrats, they at least be eaten efficiently:
Private-sector productivity has soared in the West over the past quarter-century, even in old industries such as steel and carmaking. Companies have achieved this because they have the freedom to manage—to experiment, to expand successful innovations, to close down bad ones, to promote talented people. Across the public sector, unions have fought all this, most cruelly in education. It can be harder to restructure government than business, but even small productivity gains can bring big savings.
The coming battle should be about delivering better services, not about cutting resources. Focusing on productivity should help politicians redefine the debate. The imminent retirement of the baby-boomers is a chance to hire a new generation of workers with different contracts. Politicians face a choice: push ahead, reform and create jobs in the long term; or give in again, and cut more services and raise more taxes.
In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker came to office on a promise to voters that he would de-fang the mushrooming public sector unions in his state. The people spoke, the governor kept his promise and the unions – and their allies in the Wisconsin state house – have wigged out:
Law enforcement officers are searching for Democratic senators boycotting a Senate vote on Gov. Scott Walker’s budget-repair plan Thursday in an attempt to bring the lawmakers to the floor to allow Republicans to act on the bill.
As Republicans denounced the move, one Democratic senator said that he believed most of the members of his caucus are in another state. In fact, it became apparent as the day has worn on that all of the Democratic senators are not in the Capitol and likely are out of state.
The Wisconsin state house requires at least one Democrats to establish a 20 seat quorum. Terrified of the results that might arise from participatory democracy, they vacated en masse.
The changes that Walker has proposed? Draconian, say the unions. Sensible, says Journal Sentinel editorial writer Patrick McIlheren, who accuse the unions of trying to undo the manifest will of the electorate:
Walker, remember, is not removing unions’ fundamental power to bargain for wages. He is demanding that state workers put 5.8% of their wages toward retirement and that they cover 12.6% of their health care premiums, which would still have them paying more than $100 less a month than the average schmoe. He is also proposing that elected officials determine the shape of employee benefits without having to bargain them, and this as much as the added cost has unions crying “unfair.”
These aren’t coal miners or factory workers laboring under harsh conditions amounting to physical servitude. These are mostly white collar jobs, sitting behind a desk or standing at a podium, eating bread wrung from the sweat from another’s brow.
The people of Wisconsin have spoken on the issue of higher taxes to fund public sector employee benefits. The public sector unions are speaking back to their employers through service interruptions and the dark language of class war.
The battle is joined.