Defunding the Left, One Union at a Time

“Defunding the left” was one of the objectives of the Republican uprising of 1994; unfortunately, that goal went unrealized. This is one of the basic differences between Left and Right: conservative candidates and organizations have to raise money from individuals who contribute voluntarily, out of conviction, while Democrats and liberal organizations are able to extract money by force from taxpayers and others. The Left has managed to institutionalize itself.

Labor unions are the most notorious example of this phenomenon, although by no means the only one. In many states, Democratic politicians have enacted laws that compel workers to contribute to labor unions; union bosses, in turn, take much of that money and contribute it to Democratic politicians. This is the real “dirty money” in politics.

Most people do not realize the extent to which unions dominate special interest spending on elections. When you talk about special interests, it is hardly worth mentioning any other than unions. This chart, from Open Secrets, shows the fifteen largest contributors to federal campaigns during the period 1989-2012. Ten of the fifteen are unions:

Not a single one of the top fifteen gives primarily to Republicans.

The unions’ greatest enemy is freedom of choice. Experience shows that most people, given the option, will decline to join unions. Currently, this is being borne out in Wisconsin, where Governor Walker’s public sector union reforms–among other things, his legislation ended forced union membership in the public sector and required unions to be recertified annually–have allowed state and local employees to abandon unions in droves. One of the most stunning results is the extent to which public sector unions are being decertified. The most recent instance is the Kenosha school district, as Right Wisconsin reports:

Now that Wisconsin’s educators have been given the right to choose whether or not to belong to a labor union, the unions are struggling to attract enough members to stay afloat. Proving all along that the union leaders didn’t really represent their members, as much as sponge off of them.

Under a provision of Act 10, public employee unions are required to file for annual re-certification by August 30 if they wish to remain a recognized bargaining unit. Thursday Afternoon, Mark Belling broke the news that only 37 percent of the teachers in the Kenosha Unified School District voted to reauthorize the union in a recent vote. … Kenosha Unified is the third largest school district in the state.

Wisconsin’s public sector unions may soon be on life support:

In 2010 — the year that Walker was elected governor — the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District Council 48 was thriving, having enrolled more than 9,000 workers and reporting income exceeding $7 million.

By the end of 2012, District Council 48 was down to just under 3,500 dues-paying members — a loss of nearly two-thirds of its represented workers. …

Other public employee unions are faring only marginally better. Most have lost between 30% and 60% of their members in the past two years.

With their ability to extract dues by compulsion taken away and their memberships plummeting, Wisconsin’s public sector unions will no longer be able to funnel millions of dollars into the Democratic Party’s coffers. Freedom is a wonderful thing.

What Wisconsin has done should be a model for the rest of the country. But what about private sector unions? Some argue that they are more defensible; Franklin Roosevelt, for one, was a strong supporter of private sector unions and an equally strong opponent of unions in the public sector. It is possible that at one time in America’s history, private sector unions played a positive role. I am agnostic on that point. But if so, that era is long gone. Today, unions are job-killers with few if any redeeming features.

The time has come, I think, to end the preferential treatment under which unions have long operated. Under the law, unions get a special deal: Section 6 of the Clayton Act exempts them from the antitrust laws. Absent that exemption, labor unions would be subject to the Sherman Act’s ban on combinations or conspiracies in restraint of trade. Repealing Section 6 would have one of two consequences: either unions would be deemed illegal per se as price-fixing conspiracies, or they would be subject to the Sherman Act’s Rule of Reason, under which they would have to prove that their net effect is pro-competitive rather than anti-competitive. Either way, unions would be fighting for their lives and would be in no position to dominate the political landscape.

I don’t see why Republicans shouldn’t make repeal of Section 6 a major legislative priority. Most voters would agree, I think, that unions should be subject to the same rules as everyone else. Many would squawk, of course. But unions have chosen to turn themselves into an arm of the Democratic Party rather than represent their members–the AFL-CIO’s decision to confer membership on liberal activists who are not union members is just the latest manifestation–so they have no one to blame but themselves.

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