The New York Post has a charming story today about the return of ACORN, everyone’s favorite “community organization” / vote fraud factory. “Backed by hundreds of thousands of dollars in union donations,” reports the Post, “New York Communities for Change – a rebranded version of the controversial organization that closed up shop amid several scandals – is acting again as labor’s attack dog on controversial issues.”
One of the first projects for the reanimated ACORN is blocking the construction of a Wal-Mart in New York City. It would be great for consumers, but the unions hate Wal-mart because it’s an open shop, so their foot soldiers have been dutifully dispatched to shut it down. Another heavy contributor to New York Communities for Change is the deep-pocketed United Federation of Teachers, which labors tirelessly to organize child-care workers (which would blow the cost of child care through the roof) and battle attempts to close failed schools.
Meanwhile, several states are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, due to ridiculous public-sector union demands for gold-plated pension plans. Illinois, one of the worst states, has underfunded its gigantic pension liability by 46%, leaving a financing gap of over $50 billion. Hushed whispers of federal bailouts have already begun, prompting Republicans such as Senator Jim DeMint to vow that no such bailout will be permitted, nor will the Federal Reserve be allowed to engineer a back-door bailout by purchasing state debts.
Public-sector unions have been intransigent in the face of the awful news about state pension programs. This is not surprising, because that is their nature. A union is the enemy of everyone who does not belong to it.
The early days of labor unions battling exploitative employers are long behind us. A massive regulatory apparatus exists to prevent such abuses, in no small part thanks to the early victories of the union movement. This is especially true in the case of public-sector unions, which are essentially extensions of the government, since they share the fundamental common goal of increasing government spending at the expense of the private sector.
The primary function of a modern labor union is securing compensation above market rates for its members, and guaranteeing them a level of job security greater than market forces would provide. Both of these goals can only be achieved at the expense of non-union workers.
In order to fulfill its goals, a union must restrict the supply of labor. It is very difficult to control the cost of something without restricting its supply. Few employers will hire a union worker for $50 per hour when non-union labor is available for $20 per hour. A contractor who relies on expensive union labor would be eternally under-bid by those who employ radically less expensive non-union employees.
Persuading employers that union labor is superior to the alternative only goes so far. When the additional cost of union labor is relatively modest, and the union can demonstrate superior performance to justify the cost, it’s a reasonably persuasive argument… but the cost of union labor has far outstripped the parameters of reason. Powerful and wealthy union bosses are not going to settle for the kind of wages they could obtain through competitive triumph.
Instead, the union must use compulsion to force employers to do business with it. The effort to suppress Wal-mart is an example of such compulsion. Large and successful stores that bring inexpensive products to low-income consumers must be fought tooth and nail, in order to preserve union job opportunities. No one associated with the union is terribly worried about the people who want to shop at Wal-mart. The people of New York City must not be given the option of doing business with non-unionized labor, because too many of them would take it.
Likewise, pension commitments have been a great way for politicians to maintain the enthusiastic support of highly organized public-sector unions, because they amount to buying votes and leaving the bill for future politicians and taxpayers to cover. Those public unions are now preparing to do battle with both state and federal taxpayers, to get what they feel they are owed. The fiscal health of the state and federal governments is not a serious concern.
The union is a collective, compulsive organism, using force to fulfill its ambitions. This is part of what defines a union. The targets of that compulsive force – customers, employers, and taxpayers – are the union’s enemies. The only way to change this equation is to take the instruments of compulsion away from union bosses… which means voting against the people they spend millions to elect.