Small Pendulum Swings

A few months ago, I attended a retirement dinner for a longtime teacher friend of my wife. I knew most everyone there, and, let me indicate from the outset that I like all of these people, in spite of their awful, hard-leftist politics which I normally characterize as "commie." Due to demographics around here, these folks are all fortunate to have parents of their students who are highly involved, concerned, and supportive of their kid’s educations. I’ve taught in my wife’s classroom, and observed others. This is a special environment of excellent teachers and students alike.

So we’re dining at one of those big round tables that sit about 8 or 10 people and I was chatting with one longtime friend of my wife who’s been a school principal now for a few years. She was relating a recent experience to us where she negotiated with the school district on behalf of the union in order to secure a new contract (that presumably included higher pay and benefits, combined with fewer responsibilities). I offered her the bait: "So, is the end result of your negotiations that every teacher at the various seniority levels receives exactly the same pay and benefits?" I asked wide-eyed and enthusiastically. She took it, along with the hook: "Oh yes," she exclaimed with a smile of deep satisfaction and accomplishment. "Exactly the same." Then I reeled ‘er in: "Well, that’s really unfortunate for all of you really excellent teachers now, isn’t it? I’d sure hate to work in a place where the most I can make is what the worst employee makes."

Oh, yes, you could have cut the air with a knife, as everyone looked down at their plates. But they all know what I’m like, so it all quickly moved on. I never expect that my jabbing points are going to have any lasting effect, but I still just can’t help myself when such juicy opportunities present themselves.

Likewise, I was at my parents-in-law’s house the other night for a family get-together when a conversation arose concerning who will be San Jose’s next mayor. One of my wife’s nephews asked who I would vote for, and I gave my standard answer: "I don’t vote. That would involve me trying to force my values on you and others who may not share them, and I’d never do that to you."

You’ve never seen the subject of conversation change so quickly, but Bea’s brother did mention that he missed my emails, since about a year or so ago when the family kicked me off their email list.

But all of that is just a round-about way of getting to what I wanted to get at in the first place. Now, I’m by no means talking about any sea change, or light at the end of the tunnel. More precisely, I’m talking about the joy in watching people get squeezed by their own political views — hoist, by their own petard, if you will. It seems that even a lot of the lefties who toil at city hall are supporting "the other guy" over the one who was supposed to have been the shoo-in. And why? Because he’s less beholden to labor unions.

Now, stop and consider what that means. Begin by asking: what unions? Well, public-sector unions, of course. You see, the private sector has gradually been undermining labor unions for three decades. Membership reached its peak if about 17 million in 1970, had fallen to 12%, or 10.9 million, by 1990, and is now at about 7% of the private workforce and continues to decline. All the while, guess what has been increasing? Public-sector union membership, i.e., membership amongst your employees, if you’ll pardon the collectivist reference for purposes of making a distinction.  Whereas, private-sector membership has reached a 100-year low of 7%, public-sector membership is at an all-time high of 27%, and at the local government level? It’s 42% — nearly half of all public employees. (see The Library of Economics and Liberty, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics)

To understand the dynamics involved, read this. It’s the competitive global marketplace that has been instrumental in undermining private-sector unions, because in spite of all the legal protections that unions "enjoy," employees increasingly have other choices and they have been making them. In short, the best employees migrate to where they are not limited to receiving only what the worst guy on the job gets. But no such dynamics exist in government. It’s a monopoly. There’s no competitor to go to. You’re a union employee, or you’re not an employee at all.

And so, the administrators and commissars of local government, who are not union members themselves, are feeling the pinch once felt by the captains of industry. One wonders where it will lead.

(Inspiration for this post began here, at Kim’s place; and do make sure to watch these short videos.)

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  1. Greg Freeman on August 27, 2006 at 10:28

    What's interesting is replacing a few key words in that last video about unions:

    "What do you love about your government? [union]"

    -"You know what I love, paying taxes [union dues] just so I can stay out of jail [keep my job]."

    Threads of the same cloth.

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