That union label has moved

Stark visual in the WSJ this morning about the shift in union membership from the private to the public sphere:

1960: 32% private, 7% public

2010:7% private, 36% public

From A Union Education:

It’s important to understand how revolutionary this change was. For decades as the private union movement rose in power, even left-of-center politicians resisted collective bargaining for public unions. We’ve previously mentioned FDR and Fiorello La Guardia. But George Meany, the legendary AFL-CIO president during the Cold War, also opposed the right to bargain collectively with the government.

Why? Because unlike in the private economy, a public union has a natural monopoly over government services. An industrial union will fight for a greater share of corporate profits, but it also knows that a business must make profits or it will move or shut down. The union chief for teachers, transit workers or firemen knows that the city is not going to close the schools, buses or firehouses.

This monopoly power, in turn, gives public unions inordinate sway over elected officials. The money they collect from member dues helps to elect politicians who are then supposed to represent the taxpayers during the next round of collective bargaining. In effect union representatives sit on both sides of the bargaining table, with no one sitting in for taxpayers

Notice, too, how fiercely the public unions are willing to fight for collective bargaining power even if it means public job layoffs. Without Mr. Walker’s budget reforms, Wisconsin will have to begin laying off thousands of workers as early as today. The unions would rather give up those jobs—typically for their younger members—than give up their political negotiating advantages. They know some future Governor or legislature will get those jobs back, as long as they retain their inordinate political clout.

This is the imbalance of political power that Mr. Walker is trying to break up, and he is right to do so.

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