On (Recent Events in) Wisconsin

It was always hard to imagine how this could end well for Wisconsin’s public-sector labor unions. When the senate Democrats there left for Illinois, it was obvious they were stalling, but they were never able to come up with a way to use the time that they bought. They had no ideas or counter-proposals. It is obvious they will have to return to Madison eventually to deal with state business, and when they do the state’s budget deficit and labor union contracts will be waiting for them.

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It should come as no surprise that the first confrontation ended as it did, with the essential labor law reforms headed to Gov. Scott Walker for his signature. What is taking place in Wisconsin is being acted out in other nearby states. The Indiana Legislature is looking at a right-to-work law, although Democrats there are still on their own sojourn to Illinois, and Ohio is considering dramatic labor law reforms of its own. In Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder’  administration has been more cautious, but the Legislature is moving on changes to the Emergency Financial Manager law that will allow EFMs to set aside union contracts, and legislators are poised to consider repeal of prevailing wage laws and binding arbitration for police officers and firefighters.

Throughout the upper Midwest, and Michigan is no exception, labor unions have reacted to these reform proposals with protests. They claim to represent the public, and in particular the middle class. But Americans, and Michiganders, should not be deceived. These protests are a show of force by a well-connected, well-funded (with tax dollars) labor establishment. Labor unions and their political allies may want to run from this reform movement, but the problems will remain. They may try to present themselves as defenders of the working man, but there’s a reason why the vast majority of the workforce – even in Michigan – is nonunion now. Labor unions, whatever their past, have become an unaccountable, ideological entity that is unfamiliar with the real, daily concerns of working men and women.

Michigan’s unions in particular may object vehemently to the fairly modest proposals that are kicking around Lansing, but if they were wise they would consider themselves fortunate that the Michigan Legislature and the Snyder administration have been less ambitious than their counterparts in neighboring states.