Incidentally, about the unions

One thing that gets muddled in this debate is public sector versus private sector unions. The current debate is mostly about public sector unions which are in a very different situation--why are they collectively bargaining while allowed to spend money on the campaigns of the politicians that sit on the other side of the table? This is a conflict of interest. Either lobby through bargaining at the labor table, or lobby through well, lobbying. When business spends money to elect politicians to makes things more business friendly, we never hear the end of it.

I hear in Wisconsin they just eliminated bargaining for benefits, not wages, and haven't heard anything about cuts there. It's a tangled mess.
Well, there are a few things here.

The ability of public worker unions to contribute to campaigns was only made possible with the 2010 Supreme Court decision to allow corporations and unions to act as private individuals in terms of campaign contributions and funding of political ads, which was (as far as I'm concerned) one of the worst Supreme Court decisions of all time, along with eminent domain. I would love to see that reversed, as unlikely as that would be to happen. One thing about it, though, is that the majority of spending which was prompted by this ruling has been from corporations and law firms, which have put the vast majority of funding firmly behind Republicans. The union spending has actually been only a fraction of that. [Edited to add: I would still love to see this go away, though; I think that any corporate body/collective organisation being able to spend millions of dollars on buying candidates for their interests is a threat to the interests of private, individual voters. It makes the whole thing less a democracy and even more a plutocracy.]

Now, having said that, re. the specific situation in Wisconsin:

(1) What's actually being done is stripping the unions of the rights to bargain over anything more than inflation-level wage increases -- so any further wage increases, health benefits, and also working conditions and pensions would no longer be within their remit. The thing that strikes me about this: it's not only faceless government clerks, and teachers, who are being affected by this, this also applies to police and firemen.*

(2) At the same time as stripping the unions of the right to bargain collectively, the demand being made is to double the costs to each individual for their health care and I think close to that for their pension contributions, amounting to an 8% cut in take-home wages in real terms.

*We could talk about the kind of country that freezes and shrinks the pay of its police and firemen while at the same time protecting bankers' bonuses of millions, but I doubt we would disagree there.

Edited at 2011-02-28 12:47 pm (UTC)
Devil is in the details--union political action committees were allowed to pull part of dues for their purposes, allowing them money otherwise prohibited. While corporations can have PACs, they're much more limited in the funds they can provide. I had the effect right, just didn't have the particular mechanism.

As far as Citizens United, as I understood it it basically said the gov made corporations people, so they have the rights people have. I don't agree with this either, but it's in the definitions of corporations, not so much the Constitution. I'd love a much more restricted set of corporate law, the privileges(like this one) granted are very much abused all over. It shouldn't be hard to get a law that will satisfy the court.

1. If the inflation level is true, that's an issue, but the point is partly in the second. Not to mention, the police and firemen were exempted from the bargaining limits. I don't think they should have been, but that's another debate.

2. It's been repeatedly stated that the public employees commit far less out of pocket to these benefits than private sector employees. Part of the debate is whether the public sector should be doing so much better than the private on these things.
I would agree that Union PACs are not a good thing. I don't think corporate PACs are a good thing, either, but corporations seem to have a lot of ways to donate. I don't think the corporate PACs have the limits you think they do, although I'll have to look into that.

I didn't know that police and firemen were exempted from the bargaining limits (are you sure? Where did you find that out?) but I think it's good if they are; I don't like police abuses of their system, necessarily, but I do not believe there are ever justifiable circumstances to remove the right of people who run INTO burning buildings to bargain over their pensions or health benefits.

And with regard to point 2., the US has worse worker benefits than pretty much any other industrialised nation (the fact that employer benefits have to cover health insurance surely does complicate things, too) -- but I do not see that dragging everyone down to the same level is a better answer than extending protection and bargaining power to improve everyone's lot instead.

Yes, yes, I know -- fragile economy and all that. But right now an insane amount of America's GDP is pissed away to "stockholder profit" on the private side and no-bid cronyism on the government side in a way which does not involve reinvestment and often gets offshored to "stable assets" and does not come back and benefit the general economy. Improving the job stability and purchasing power of the bottom 90% of the population is something I can't help but feel would go a lot further towards a recovering economy than working to strip yet more benefits from the pinched middle. Stable democracies are built on the presence of a large, strong middle class. And a strong middle class depends on worker rights, too.
The economy is a whole 'nother discussion. A big thing to remember is that the government is a parasite--it provides few services the market can't, and most of those are less "touchable--" Unlike a road you drive to work on, defense spending has much less obvious benefits to the public. Tax money pulls from the economy the produces it, and has to be spent efficiently. Having 1-3 TRILLION of unfunded pensions(nationwide, and jsut look at that, not the amount of the budgets--you can take from elsewhere to fill the hole, but the fact that the hole exists to begin with...) for the next few decades is not practical--raising taxes to cover that gap will kill the goose. We have the worst, but look at nations like Greece. That's where we'd be, higher taxes with a more stagnant economy, and still in the hole. Granted, we're still heading there, but we're managing to hold it off a decade more(maybe, we also started later than most European countries). The big goal is to keep from becoming like Greece, with massive foreign aid that will still just put off the inevitable.

The exemption was ironically from talk radio. A number of hosts are not holding up all of the right wing stereotype, mostly because most started in other professions and from those and the broadcasting unions some are still in, it's generally "private okay, public bad." The firefighters and police being exempted was originally brought up because it was claimed that they were exempt because of political contributions, which was debunked.

I personally plan on homeschooling or doing private school, but I'd like to point out that we're LOWER in student performance than countries that spend far less per pupil. The teacher's unions can't be blamed for all of that, but money doesn't talk as well as people think in this area, and cuts won't necessarily make things worse. A middle class depends on the education and opportunities to make it; an idiocracy will have a large lower class because they can't do the things that make enough money for the middle, and taxing out the job makers just makes things worse.

I think I've been drifting anrcho-capitalist for a while now, pointing out that "too big to fail" and bailouts came from a government powerful enough to make them happen comes from that.
Re. the school issue, I've long wondered where exactly all the money spent on American schools actually goes. In Wisconsin, the starting wage for a teacher is apparently $25,000. And with regards to school supplies and textbooks, all you have to do is look at what is asked for at Donor's Choose for an occasionally extremely depressing look at what schools don't have. (Although, that said, I do see requests for things that parents would have been responsible for getting back a few decades ago, too. Is that because parents won't or can't buy them any more? I don't know.)

But there is one undeniable thing which is going to happen as a result of cutting funding to the schools which WILL have an effect on school quality, and that is that teachers will be cut; fewer teachers = larger class sizes, and the documentation which links large class sizes with poor educational outcomes is vast, wide-ranging and extensive.

Incidentally, the other things which does have a very big effect on how well as school does is the poverty level (or not) of the families it serves. Whenever more than 10% of the students in a school live under the poverty level, school performance drops like a rock. This is also something which is well-explored in social sciences literature -- students in poverty have a variety of challenges in their home lives, everything from poor nutrition to sleep disruption because of living circumstances* to extra exposure to violence, which impacts their ability to learn and remember and get homework done. Unless they have good support services, just criticising teacher's unions for protecting incompetent teachers isn't going to make a dent.

There is one aspect to teachers' unions which I flatly disagree with, and that is tenure; tenure was originally supposed to be for the benefit of higher education, to allow academics to explore controversial, cutting edge ideas without fear for their careers. But teachers at a public school level shouldn't be exploring "controversial" or unsupported or cutting edge ideas anyway, they should be providing basic education to agreed-upon standards. I don't see how the idea of tenure is defensible here, since all it does is protect the people who have stuck it out long enough to get it, regardless of their current competence, interest, or effort.

But the picture is more complicated than condemning any one particular thing, sadly. If there were any way to make teacher cuts truly merit-based, that would be good. But there isn't, and it won't be, and class sizes will increase and deeper issues of poverty will be ignored, and I don't see any way that this could work out well for the people involved.

As for "taxing out the job makers", aside from a brief stint from 1988-1992, the 'job makers' are taxed at the lowest rates they have faced since 1931. That doesn't seem to stop them from offshoring jobs to the countries where they can get away with paying pennies a day and not having to comply with environmental regulations, however.

*There is an unfortunate side to my own family which illustrates this. As the result of a long and sorry tale full of poor decision making, some of my idiot nephew's (I have a smart nephew as well; this isn't him) children were shuffled off to babysitters while he worked night shift in a car factory, and he would then come and wake his kids up when he got off shift at 3am, to walk them home; then they would get woken up at 7am to go to school. Both kids, unsurprisingly, have shown poor school performance, and they will likely be handicapped for some time through absolutely no fault of their own. This is only one way it can happen, obviously.

Edited at 2011-03-07 12:33 am (UTC)

(3) The good Governor has gone out of his way to portray the government workers as both better paid than private sector and having been shielded from all previous austerity measures, but a bit of checking demonstrates this isn't entirely true. If you look at breakdowns of comparable or equivalent jobs, whether government or private workers get paid more is actually a very mixed bag with no clear trend in either direction; it varies wildly by actual profession. However, it is also an undeniable fact that the state workers have had their salary frozen for the last two years, and in the year before that had been forced to take unpaid furlough equivalent to losing 3% of their annual salary, so they have already been hit with austerity measures.

(4) Gov. Walker is also making the claim that this is needed for fiscal austerity. A few things stand out, here, though; the shortfall isn't going to happen until this summer, when they're going to come up about $169 million short, largely in Medicaid. However, if you look at the Fiscal Bureau for Wisconsin's report, there are a few interesting things buried in amongst the bumff, for example the fact that they hold that more than half the projected shortfall in tax revenues to support commitments is because of "Special Session Senate Bill 2 (health savings accounts), Assembly Bill 3 (tax deductions/credits for relocated businesses), and Assembly Bill 7 (tax exclusion for new employees)." These are the favoured Republican alternative to mandatory insurance, and a commitment of an additional $25 million to a "job creation fund" which already had $73 million in it which wasn't being drawn on, and $67 million for a tax incentive plan for employers to hire new employees which is not being drawn on because it actually falls short of real incentive in practice, it isn't enough of a break to actually convince people to hire more in this economy -- so you get the worst of both worlds, a cost to the state for no return, no tangible benefit in terms of economic development. The last couple of those things are also agenda items that the Governor pushed through last year and is unwilling to relinquish, despite the fact that what he's promised funding to hasn't been working.

Also, the unions made the public statement (repeatedly) that they were willing to come to the table over wages and benefits, as long as they were able to retain the power to bargain collectively.

So, when the governor says it's not about busting up worker rights, it's about fiscal necessity, I'm afraid that looks extremely dishonest to me.

3. All the figures I've heard are averages, which don't show the true picture well.

4. This is where I really see an issue. If the unions agreed to the increase in contributions, then why bother cutting the bargaining rights? He's been quite clear in places other than a call to an imitated blogger hardly anyone's heard about that he wants to break the public unions. This is a rather short straw to be picking at to do that though. That's probably most of what this is: he's promised to go after the unions, and came up with an excuse. This is, from the numbers I've seen, 300 mil of over 3 billion, less than 10% of the deficit. Low hanging fruit, or agenda? I need to look up the other cuts he wants to make.

I don't call myself conservative, I think they're being just as stupid as the liberals, when they're not being worse. It's been interesting to watch as things like this start coming from an outside view.
Well, he's a real blogger, not just an imitation blogger, the guy who snookered Walker. But to be honest, who did it is not nearly as interesting as Walker's own actions.

As for what the other cuts would be, he's supposed to give a speech on it today, in fact. But so far, word is that the largest cuts will be from the school system. ( Because, even though everyone preaches "education, education, education" schools always seem to be some of the first victims of chops.

Edited at 2011-03-01 08:58 pm (UTC)
Well, Kochs, the guy he thought he was talking to, was spoofed, that's what I meant. And I ended up putting the response to the education stuff in the other comment, silly me.
The mechanism our right chose to purge the radical left from unions, post-WWII, was to more-or-less invite organized crime in. This, along with labor law, bureaucracy and nepotism, moved most unions into a lower-middle-class, property-owning space where most of the working class and poor had only a slightly better chance of getting a union job than they had of getting a 4-year college degree.

So we're 50 years down the road. The right has harvested a fair amount of fruit from this, and now they think they've got the unions cornered and ready to crush. In the end, we will all miss the unions if they go, but they have to change their nature substantially to get more voters on their side.
The mechanism our right chose to purge the radical left from unions, post-WWII, was to more-or-less invite organized crime in.

They did? How did they?

I mean, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that some unions ended up with very strong links to organised crime (and that other unions have found ways to do themselves no favours just by enacting stupidly restrictive bylaws and making it impossible to get work in a field unless you do indeed "know the right people" -- thinking of the Hollywood unions, here). But it just doesn't seem likely to me that organised crime needed an "invitation" from the political right to decide to take advantage of other organisations with access to goods and money, nor am I entirely sure how the right would have even been in a position to give them access.

Any resources or particular bits of history you'd like to use to support this argument?

(....The problem I see here, anyway, is that stripping unions of the right of collective bargaining is like curing a sick man by shooting him, and it also ignores the fact that not all unions are corrupt or dishonest. But that makes it a complex situation, and most people don't like dealing with those.)
In a way, unions did this to themselves. After successfully improving worker's rights and working conditions, in the 1950s, they stopped promoting themselves. The business community cleverly slipped in and started with the 'we give benefits keep workers happy because happy workers are more productive' crap.

Seriously, one of my friends, who is anti-union, was asking what unions ever did for anyone. I replied "paid vacations, the 40 hour work week, weekends, health benefits, pensions, laws that prohibit unnecessarily dangerous work conditions... etc". He replied "Those weren't because of unions!" When I asked where they came from, he honestly believed it was "the benevolance of businessmen."

I gave him a quick summary of unionism from the Haymarket riots in 1888 through the Undergarment Worker's Union in the 20s through the various union actions through the 1900s... he'd never heard of ANY of them.

Of course, this is in North America where the US intentionally moved Labour Day from May 1 (when it's celebrated everywhere in the world BUT the US and Canada - in honour of the Haymarket Riots - which was in Chicago) to the first Monday in September, intentionally breaking the connection and turning it into yet another shopping holiday (ironically - making it into more of a celebration for employers and businessmen than workers.. many of whom have to work on Labour Day.. oh the irony).
Errr.. I'm not entirely sure what that's directed at - but in the spirit of disclosure - neither my friend nor I are American. But as I noted, Canada has generally gone along with US on these things.

My father was a shop steward and has been a member of the IWW.