An Intro to the Sources of Public Unrest with Public Unions

Let me try and find a basic principle of conservative philosophy that I believe that many public union members will agree with, that human nature is fixed, that the fundamental nature of 21st Century Americans is not intrinsically different from the people of centuries past. If we today do have it better than the previous generations, it is because our predecessors developed for us through hard experience some decent ideals to live by (after living through other ones that didn’t work so well), and bequeathed to us a set of institutions capable of nurturing and growing those ideals.
But if human nature remains the same, then we know that in any era — present era included — that when you tell a certain class of people, be they royalty, guild members, corporate leaders or union members, that they have a privileged position in the governing process — and especially in appropriating resources from the general citizenry — they will tend to take more and more, until the general citizenry starts to push back. Public employee unions are no more immune to this dynamic than are any other form of human organization. And, over the past 50 years, public employee unions in the United States have been given, or perhaps taken, a privileged position in the process of dmeocratic governance.
This, more than the immediate set of fiscal particulars, is what is driving the conflict that has exploded in Wisconsin and Indiana, and is what needs to be rebalanced, in order to resolve the situation.
Now, I know that public employee union members authentically bristle at being called a “privileged class”, so I will lay out exactly what kinds of governing privilege I refer to, and especially how those privileges conflict with the foundational ideas and processes that make a democratic system work…

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David S
David S
10 years ago

“Let me try and find a basic principle of conservative philosophy that I believe that many public union members will agree with, that human nature is fixed, that the fundamental nature of 21st Century Americans is not intrinsically different from the people of centuries past. If we today do have it better than the previous generations, it is because our predecessors developed for us through hard experience some decent ideals to live by (after living through other ones that didn’t work so well), and bequeathed to us a set of institutions capable of nurturing and growing those ideals.” Carroll Andrew Morse
I do not know that progress you allude to can be taken as a given. Early inhabitants of this state fought for their labor rights- expressing a clear but equal difference between the rights of capital and labor. Farmers and landowners did not adjust well to the industrial tenants of time and wages. The official time as told by the church clock tower was for the benefit of the industrialists but made no sense to the farmers and landowners that lived by the natural clock of the seasons. Labor was something of value.
So we haved gained something? That now the official time is as set as in stone? We are so advanced that capital has become preeminent and labor has become the poor cousin? This is the advancement you allude to?
The last vestige of labor you now want to savage. That savaging, I have no doubt will occur. But what will follow? I wonder how many people that are now joining in on the union bashing will ever see any profit, any discernible improvement in their lot.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

David, you forget that “labor” is objectively a bad thing. If you disagree with that then go outside and roll a large rock up a hill all day. Or in more economic terms, stitch your own clothes, milk your own cows. A society with less labor is a more prosperous society. Progressives want to move the clock backwards and return to some kind of agrarian or industrial society in which everyone has a 9 to 5 factory job building widgets for $75,000 a year, but that world is gone, or more accurately, never really existed. “Unions brought you the weekend and holidays,” the propaganda newsletters say. Only in the most basic sense. What actually happened was society’s values changed to value job safety, comfort, and security more heavily. This manifested in trade unions and then a century of strict labor laws. Unions weren’t the cause of this trend, they were the effect. Now they are rendered utterly useless, reduced to hijacking state governments through corrupt dealings and fighting over already excessive salaries and benefits to try to justify their own existence on borrowed time. The tide is turning on these lumbering pea-brained dinosaurs. Good riddance.

michael
michael
10 years ago

Wrong again, Dan. Labor is never a “bad” thing. Work must be done, people will get dirty, sweat will flow and things will be built. By labor. Not by the idea of labor.
The reason labor and unions will not lose this battle is simple. There are always going to be people who can not or will not do the work that needs to be done. People who are not afraid of work will rally, while those who think work beneath them will not.
Private sector union membership will rise, and equal public sector union ranks. Then we won’t have to hear about the absurd “public sector union class” garbage. The strategy is transparent and flawed. People who work for a living are not going to adhere to the “take theirs away” approach for long. They will see things as they truly are, and soon, and demand what we have for themselves, because what we have is not out of line with reality, or out of reach for most.
“I don’t get a pension, take theirs away,” will be replaced with, “my work is valuable, the “company” is making huge profits for the shareholders, I deserve a fair pension as trade for my labor.”
The “make them pay for healthcare!” rhetoric will be replaced with “this system is flawed. We all need healthcare.”
The tide has turned. A few voices here and on other conservative sites are not enough. You get what you put in, and people get what they deserve. It is the way of the universe, and it always works. Might take a while, but it will work. Because work is labor, and labor is good, and honest.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

Michael, are you really so obtuse that you don’t understand what I mean by labor being an objectively bad thing that society should try to minimize? We would be better off if everyone physically labored every day? This right here is exactly my point, how progressives want to bring us backwards as a warped, backwards, economically counterproductive society. Again, I must suggest you educate yourself before blabbering about things you know nothing about. Wealth of Nations would be a good starting point. Most people understand the concepts of trade and surplus by half your age. You probably think it’s a virtue to be self-sufficient and be a jack of all trades – the quickest road to poverty and ruin. If you want to understand why Nepal is so poor, it’s because everyone does everything and nobody specializes in their society. They spend all day laboring, raising their own crops and then eating them with nothing to show at the end of the day. They must be the ultimate society according to your logic – just ignore the astronomical infant mortality rate because they have no doctors. Meh, they’re all over-educated elitists anyway, right? Get over your inferiority complex already, it’s getting old. You think people who don’t support unions are “afraid to work”? This is unbelievable horsesh*t, even compared to the braindead propaganda you’ve been spouting lately. You are telling Justin he’s afraid to do real work? You are telling me I’m afraid to do real work? Please, I literally get more done in a day than the union [members] at my job get done in 2 weeks, who sit around making personal calls and talking about their kids all day, and I have the documentation and dated assignment sheets to prove that claim. I’ve been told flat out by… Read more »

michael
michael
10 years ago

What are you talking about?
“David, you forget that “labor” is objectively a bad thing.”
How does it feel to be paraphrased?
And actually, I’m creating my own unionist propaganda because I’m sick and tired of all of the horseshit I’ve been reading. I’m also ashamed I used to consider myself a conservative.
Take it or leave it, I don’t care, even a little.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

Michael – all I am really saying is stick with things you truly understand. You know firefighting. You know emergency medical work. I’ve been impressed many times on this blog by your experience and knowledge and articulateness in a number of different areas. You have a lot of insight to offer. But when you come on here spouting economic blather about the value of physical sweat and labor and how the market sets compensation wrong because entertainers make more than teachers, you are just embarrassing yourself. Please – either stay off these topics or at least educate yourself about trade, wages, and how modern economies work. This latest series of tirades of yours is the most shameless union propaganda I’ve ever seen. It’s even worse than a lot of Crowley’s stuff. There’s no truth in it, there’s no inspiration in it, it’s just confused starry-eyed nonsense that even the most liberal economist would have to shake his head at.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
10 years ago

Posted by michael
“Work must be done, people will get dirty, sweat will flow and things will be built. By labor. Not by the idea of labor.”
I think we must provide “manly” work for those unable, or unwilling, to participate in the “service economy”. Manufacturing did this with “production work”, operating a rolling mill, or a punch press. Then there are carpenters, and other artisans. From high to low, at the end of the day you can look at what you have done. These people are not interested in sitting in cubicles, moving a stack of paper from one side of a desk to another. They cannot be excluded.
“I don’t get a pension, take theirs away,” will be replaced with, “my work is valuable, the “company” is making huge profits for the shareholders, I deserve a fair pension as trade for my labor.”
I must admit that when Bill Gates gave away billions to Africa, I did some arithmetic. If he had divided that money up among the employees who helped him make it, with reasonably cautious investment, they would all retire millionaires. I did the same computation on Ted Turner’s spectacular gift. If I am thinking this way, other people are too. I was motivated to these computations by what I saw as ingratitude, and self-aggrandizement, on the part of Gates and Turner. It may also be that their decision was motivated by the tax code. Plus, the Africans receive it “free”, the employees would find it “taxable”.(when we started “foreign aid” it was “credits”. For instance,we would give Nigeria “foreign aid” to build roads,but they had to buy Caterpillar equipment)

BobN
BobN
10 years ago

David’s comment is a fine example of the false Marxist model on which the modern labor movement is based.
Public-sector unions do not share the history or original purpose of private-sector unions. I have written about this elsewhere on the blog: They are a modern political invention whose purpose from the beginning was to create systemic corruption that favored government employees some, their union “leaders” more, and Leftist/liberal/Democrat politicians for both ideological and venal reasons.
David then goes over the top with his hyperbolic, Leftist phony “victim” act, accusing the taxpayers of “savaging” the last “rights” that labor has left in the world. I’m surprised he didn’t drag in a Pearl Harbor reference.
I wish that David could be transported to the winter of 1831 for a few weeks so that he could see what “improvements” capitalists and entrepreneurs brought to modern society. I am sure they would be clear to him once he sees what life was like without them.
The two-factor model used by Marxists is plainly wrong in describing how the world works. There are three factors. Capitalists and innovator/entrepreneurs brought us all of the material and technological improvements in society in history. Labor by itself, without the ideas of the innovators or the machines provided by capital, would still be plowing the family farm with an ox.
Still the issue here is public-sector unions, and they are possibly the most craven example of political corruption in American history.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

Andrew – We are actually giving the same advice here: “Make better arguments.” So in a way, I am actually encouraging the quality of public debate. I ask you not to throw around words like “public forum,” even though I know you meant it in a non-legal sense, because many of the progressives here confusedly believe it is legally possible for a non-government entity to infringe upon their free speech rights and have accused me of it in the past.

Russ
Russ
10 years ago

I think this post says more about conservatives and their worldview than it does about union members or others Andrew attempts to paint with that same brush (e.g. those with a so-called “privileged position… will tend to take more and more, until the general citizenry starts to push back”). Nature [has] implanted in our breasts a love of others, a sense of duty to them, a moral instinct, in short, which prompts us irresistibly to feel and to succor their distresses.” –Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Law, 1814. Brought to mind this article, “As for Empathy, the Haves Have Not.” http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/02/fashion/02studied.html Earlier studies have suggested that those in the lower classes, unable to simply hire others, rely more on neighbors or relatives for things like a ride to work or child care. As a result, the authors propose, they have to develop more effective social skills — ones that will engender good will. “Upper-class people, in spite of all their advantages, suffer empathy deficits,” Dr. Keltner said. “And there are enormous consequences.” In other words, a high-powered lawyer or chief executive, ill equipped to pick up on more-subtle emotions, doesn’t make for a sympathetic boss. In an apocryphal but oft-cited exchange, Hemingway supposed the rich to be different only because they had more money. But, as Fitzgerald rather presciently wrote in his story “Rich Boy,” because the wealthy “possess and enjoy early, it does something to them,” surmising, “They are different from you and me.” Score one for Scott. So, no, in this case I’d say your view of “human nature” is not necessarily the nature of all of us, many of whom view the world as being about cooperation. I was just reading to my daughter about Confucianism, which has a markedly different view of what you call human nature.… Read more »

Russ
Russ
10 years ago

Goofed the formatting a bit. The article quote runs from “Earlier studies…” to “Score one for Scott.”

BobN
BobN
10 years ago

In what way is Russ’s post relevant to Andrew’s article?

Russ
Russ
10 years ago

Let’s spell this out then…
Andrew says conservatives view human nature as fixed and that it is our nature to take advantage of positions of so-called privilege. I question that assumption, especially for those in the working class, while acknowledging that many conservatives view the world that way.
I think it’s an important difference to note because it influences so much of what we consider “common” sense, for instance Marc’s idea that it’s necessary to have “a hammer” (his metaphor for using coercion to promote learning such as tying gradution to standardized test results) to motivate school kids.
There’s quite a bit about why we think that way in Alfie Kohn’s book, “Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason” (recommended).

BobN
BobN
10 years ago

The word “privilege” is being used in two different ways here.
The Leftist view is that wealth or income, regardless of how it may have been earned, is “privilege” and the person who has it is to be envied and hated by the “working class”.
The conservative view, and the one that I believe Andrew is using, is that “privilege” arises from political manipulation of legislation to create advantages for one group against others who are prevented from negotiating or seeking substitutes by the corrupt law.
For example, “privilege” is the exemption that the US Congress grants itself from nearly all laws that it passes. Privilege for unions is also embedded in Title 28 of Rhode Island’s General Laws.
Continuing to use the same word to mean two different things ensures that this debate will not end well.

Russ
Russ
10 years ago

As for the stawman characterization of the “the leftist view,” I did not think Andrew defined privilege as those with wealth or income. In fact, that’s why I chose to describe his term as “so-called privilege.”
If he were talking about those with wealth, I would agree that they have “a privileged position in the process of dmeocratic governance.” I don’t think there’s much controversy about that given our current campaign financing laws.

Justin Katz
Justin Katz
10 years ago

This is great: It’s like being back in college, when use of a word with leftist-tainted double meanings was an excuse for those with no arguments to ignore arguments on the table.
I’m reasonably confident that Andrew meant “privileged” in an objective, descriptive sense not unlike its meaning in a “privileged motion” in Robert’s Rules of Order.
Sometimes a white paper has nothing to do with race, and sometimes privilege is merely a statement of priority.

BobN
BobN
10 years ago

Andrew, I’m not saying that union members claim to be a privileged class. In fact, their strategy is to become one while whining loudly about how they remain oppressed victims. They can enjoy their ill-gotten privileges while publicly disclaiming them. Ann Coulter’s book “Guilty” explains their strategy quite well.
As to whether the politicians are merely “none-too-bright” rather than explictly corrupt, I’ll point out that the politician who took public-sector unionization nationwide was John Kennedy; and that he did it after seeing how effective the scheme was in New York state as a model for the public union-Democrat party alliance.

OldTimeLefty
10 years ago

BobN says:
“Marxist, blah, blah, blah.” “Leftists, blah, blah, blah” Rote ‘thinking’, blah, blah, blah”.
BobN, in the future, just say “blah, blah, blah” and we’ll fill in the Unions bad, business good, Leftists bad, Pea Tarty, good. Save us all a lot of trouble and you don’t have to strain your already stretched grip on reality.
OldTimeLefty

Phil
Phil
10 years ago

Dan writes this in his tirade:
“I’ve been told flat out by my deputy director that I’m the most productive member of the office. The hardcore ra-ra unionist who sits next to me, to my knowledge, has never done a day of work since I got to this job. He sits there on his morbidly fat [behind] and bitches about management and goes on ebay all day and never does a goddamn thing to earn his salary and benefits. He cries disability constantly because of his diabetes and back problems, but he sure did walk 8 blocks today to go to some stupid union rally supporting Wisconsin – all on the taxpayer’s dime.”
This reveals a truth about many of us, and because its his words, much about Dan. We all can argue using high minded principles and economic theories, but in most cases we form our opinions based on our own personal knowledge. That’s fine if you are willing to understand others form their opinions from their experiences and that they are just as valid as your own.
So Dan uses his personal work experience for this statement:
“Please, I literally get more done in a day than the union [members] at my job get done in 2 weeks, who sit around making personal calls and talking about their kids all day, and I have the documentation and dated assignment sheets to prove that claim.”
Fine, Dan, but just do not use our own instance to extrapolate to all instances.

BobN
BobN
10 years ago

Is Lefty’s post supposed to mean anything related to the topic?
(that is a rhetorical question)

OldTimeLefty
10 years ago

No, BobN, it’s not supposed to mean anything. It’s a parody of what you always say – Unions bad, blah, blah, blah. Leftists bad, blah, blah, blah.
And you say it in such uninteresting ways.
OTL

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