That's Not How We Roll

Andy Stern was a leader in what is supposed to be a democratic movement, but reveals a jarring admiration for authoritarianism.

Last week, former SEIU President Andy Stern revealed his preference for dictatorial governance in an article he wrote for The Wall Street Journal. Stern was once considered an innovative leader in the union firmament, which likes to portray itself as the model of democracy in action. For such an influential union advocate to embrace the Chinese methods of economic central planning and government is extremely revealing, and troubling to those who wish to maintain a free society in the United States.

That Stern wishes to have America emulate China is quite clear. Stern raves over China’s ambitious 12th "Five-Year Plan": 7 percent annual economic growth, $640 billion invested in renewable energy, 6 million new homes, next generation information technology, clean-energy vehicles, biotechnology, advanced manufacturing, environmental protection, “all while promoting social equity and rural development”! (exclamation mark not in original). If Stern has any doubts that the PRC will achieve all of these goals, he's keeping them to himself. He expounds upon how advancements in computing will lead to “[t]he conservative preferred, free-market fundamentalist, shareholder-only model…being thrown onto the trash heap of history.”

At this point, Stern beats the living daylights out of a straw man. With our extensive and very often counterproductive regulatory agencies, costly entitlements in health care and retirement, and extensive “economic development” programs in which governments attempt to promote businesses, it has been decades since America could be said to be “fundamentalist” about the free market. Stern himself should know better; as a labor union president he would have been intimately involved with the National Labor Relations Act and its many requirements: government-run union elections, official union certifications and mandatory bargaining, all directed and supervised by a federal bureaucracy. Whether the law is wise or foolish, its provisions were central to Andy Stern’s professional life. And many of the employers Stern sought to organize were government agencies – nationally most unionized workers are government employees nowadays. If Stern were being honest with himself, he would quickly realize that he himself is far more a creature of the state than of the free market.

Nonetheless, Stern admires the Chinese approach to decision making: “While we debate, Team China rolls on.” At once Stern reveals a casual dismissiveness towards debate, which is the hallmark of a democratic republic, and fails to come to terms with how the People’s Republic of China “rolls.” To their credit, China’s rulers have recognized the folly of doctrinaire Marxism and allowed entrepreneurs and markets some breathing room, and overall they have been far more humane since the days of the Great Leap Forward or the Cultural Revolution.  Yet the basic political structure of China is essentially the same as it was during the time of Mao Zedong, a single-party dictatorship that retains absolute authority, and is willing to resort to violence to stamp out dissent, whether it be democratic protestors in Tiananmen Square or devotees of Falun Gong. Even when dealing with those who are not critics of the regime, the Chinese state can be heavy-handed; the “one child policy” remains in effect.

In short, China is not a free society, and while its government deserves credit for some reforms, China has not reached a point where it should be treated as a model for anyone to follow.  Furthermore, with his glowing account of progress in China, made without any accounting of repression past or present, Stern reveals that he holds individual freedom and democratic debate in low regard. This admiration of a dictatorship stands in stark contrast with the frequent claims of union officials to be leaders of a democratic movement for workers, and should trouble anyone who has the best interests of American workers at heart. The five-year plans that Stern admires so much for their audacity are the products of an authoritarian government that has little patience for dissent; one cannot have one without the other. But dictatorship is just not how we roll over here.  Does the rest of the union hierarchy get that?