The Heritage Foundation has put together a short video of interviews with a handful of people in Wisconsin who are protesting Governor Walker’s proposed “budget repair bill.” The video opens with a person saying, “What did Hitler do first? He busted the unions. First you take away the unions, and then you take away the Jews.” Near the end of the video, another person says that the current state of Wisconsin is “like pre-Nazi Germany.” Well.
The final person in the video says that she does not want Walt Disney and Wal-Mart teaching our kids, which is what she apparently thinks will happen if the Wisconsin governor succeeds in reducing Wisconsin teachers’ legal rights to bargain collectively. It is hard not to wonder whether even the rather ahistorical Walt Disney corporation would do any worse, but that is by the by.
In the circumstances, I have a recommendation to make to Wisconsin’s Governor Walker, and by implication to other governors and state legislatures around the country who are or will be facing similar budget deficits and debts and are or will have to figure out ways to address them: Go for the jugular now.
The proposed budget in Wisconsin would increase public employees’ contribution to their own pensions to approximately 6% and their contribution toward their own health care benefits to approximately 12%—both numbers still well below state and national averages for the private sector.
Their reason for protesting is, they say, not the money, but the fact that the governor wants to “bust the unions.” According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Under the bill, the unions could not bargain over anything but wages, would have to hold annual elections to keep their organizations intact and would lose the ability to have union dues deducted from state paychecks. Employees would no longer have to automatically pay union dues, but could choose whether they want to do so.”
That is not quite “busting the unions.” Under Walker’s proposed legislation, union members would still be able to exist and would still be able to bargain collectively about wages. But they would have to hold annual elections, and they couldn’t have their union dues automatically drafted from their paychecks—hardly objectionable, it would seem, let alone worthy of such aggressive protest. They would lose their ability to bargain collectively about their pensions and health benefits, yet even here it is not as drastic as it initially sounds: police, firefighters, and state troopers would all be exempt and thus allowed to continue bargaining collectively about everything.
But the union members and their allies are nevertheless willing to employ the reductio ad hitlerum, even for such a relatively small fiscal change. The right-leaning Media Research Center has a story (with pictures and a link to video) about the climate of hate that protesters are creating with references to Hitler, the Nazis, Mussolini, and Mubarek, as well as pictures of the governor in crosshairs and other eliminationist rhetoric.
I don’t think public-sector employees should be allowed to collectively bargain or unionize at all, because the people paying their salaries and benefits have no place at the bargaining table and because conflicts of interest are everywhere. (For example, the former governor of New Jersey used to date a former state union boss.) But when public-sector employees average better pay, better retirement plans, better health, sickness, leave, and vacation plans, and better job security than their counterparts in the private sector, then they have lost the moral high ground and have become instead mere special pleaders for their special privileges.
In circumstances like these, one does not begin the negotiations with them with such small requests. As long as you’re going to be called a Hitler anyway, then why not begin the negotiations with something rather more real-world-like? Why not start with proposing to outlaw altogether unionizing and collective bargaining among public workers, and requiring them to pay 50% of their pensions and benefits?
For too long many of them have been living in an economic fairytale land, where more money comes from “demanding” it, not from inceasing marginal productivity and wealth. If we had all the money in the world, I would still say it is not healthy for so many people not to understand the necessities of wealth production (not distribution), and the realities of what people in the private sector face. But we don’t have all the money in the world.
So I say to Governor Walker, do not merely wait them out; proceed all the more boldly against them. If they are already calling you a Hitler, and thus already dealing with you in bad faith, what more do you have to fear?