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Look closer. Think harder. Choose the sound argument over the clever one.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Betrayal, by Linda Chavez
A while ago I read Linda Chavez' book, Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics.
If you think power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, this book is for you. If you think "follow the money" to find corruption, this book is for you. If you think responsibility (with untold millions in union dues) requires accountability, read this book. When in comes to campaign finance reform, there's an elephant in the room: it's time to see it.
Here's how it starts:
Imagine you pick up your newspaper one morning and read that the Republican Party has given control of George W. Bush's reelection campaign to Halliburton.... It turns out that Halliburton is spending millions of corporate dollars--none of it collected from voluntary contributions--to finance ads and grassroots activity for the Republicans. Halliburton employees also dominate the Bush campaign staff; they are on loan as full-time "volunteers," though they continue to draw their Halliburton salaries. In exchange for the huge amounts of money and other support Halliburton is providing, the president and his staff meet with Halliburton executives to coordinate the message for the reelection campaign. More important, the GOP has granted Big Oil veto power over the Republican platform, refusing to formalize the party's public policy positions and campaign strategies until Halliburton and other oil-compaany donors have given their approval.
No doubt the nation would erupt in a furor if such an arrangement were revealed--and justifiably so.
... Amazingly, such a scenario actually played out pretty much as described--except the president running for reelection was not a Republican but a Democrat, and the powerful group pulling the strings in the campaign was not Big Oil but Big Labor.
Even more shocking, the national media and the political establishment barely reacted to the revelation that America's union bosses had systematically bought their way into control of the Democratic Party. There were no calls for congressional hearings, no outrage, no intensive media campaign.
Welcome to the world of modern American Politics. ...
Betrayal brings together decades of reporting on labor unions. It looks at their ties, methods and political influence. Here are the chapters at a glance:
- For Sale: The Democratic Party, the American Worker, and the United States Government.
- Marriage of Convenience: Unions and the Democrats.
- An Affair to Remember: Bill Clinton and the Unions.
- Putting the Public at Risk
- Teachers' Unions: Deep-Pocketed Protectors of Mediocrity
- Legalized Terrorism
- Money, Mansions, and Mobsters: Union Corruption
- Choking the Golden Goose: How Big Labor Harms the American Economy
- Ending the Cycle of Corruption
- (Afterward:) Big Labor's Big Loss in 2004
It's extensively footnoted.
Here are some things I didn't like about it:
- I don't like the way she refers to unions as Big Labor. I suppose it's accurate, but it's a loaded phrase I don't like.
- Reading about seemingly endless corruption is emotionally wearying, taxing. I don't like that feeling, but I'm glad she's documented what she has. It needs to be told.
- One gets the sense that all unions are corrupt. Is that true? She doesn't say (that I recall). It's appropriate to focus on corruption, and particularly the lack of accountability that leads to it. But some sense of proportion would be nice.
- It's written for a conservative audience. From the Sean Hannity quote on the front cover to much of the language throughout, you can tell she's preaching to the converted. Its influence might be wider if it weren't so, though perhaps only slightly so.
Linda Chavez was a union official. She was also pretty far left politically, which is how I heard of her. I'm interested in stories of political conversion, and her's is an interesting one. She tells it in An Unlikely Conservative. Being an hispanic woman makes it more interesting still. But I digress.
A few months ago (before I started this book) my father-in-law and I got into a discussion about unions. He's very pro-union. There were a lot of things we agreed on, and areas we disagreed. Here are my thoughts as further informed by this book.
- Unions should be legal, and workers should have the right to bargain collectively if they so choose.
- Before unions, management did take advantage of unskilled labor, and probably still would today.
- Unions push for a "closed shop." The idea is that if union bargaining helps all workers, all workers should contribute to the union. I agree with that in principle, but think that shouldn't come automatically. And (from the book) to what extent should a majority vote fifty years ago dictate employees' situations today?
- We both agreed that union corruption is very troubling.
- Unions face a fundamental, fatal flaw: there's a glut of unskilled labor in the world. Unions attempt to counter that, but that's really not possible. Supply and demand (in my opinion) is as much a law of nature as gravity, and no union can make that go away. (And that's what the second half of the 20th century has shown us. The book doesn't mention this.)
- From the book: Unions spend a lot of effort coercing and intimidating non-union employees. In that respect, they're anti-employee, and work for their (i.e., union leaders') self-interest every bit as much as management does.
- One big justification for unions is to get a bigger piece of corporate profits. But what about government employees' unions? The book points out the obvious: that government doesn't make a profit, so that reason isn't valid. (From the book: Government employee unions are the fastest-growing in the US, with others on the decline.)
- Consider that there's no competition with government services: you don't have competing brands of firemen or police. It's a monopoly, and that's supposed to be in the public's best interest. Because of that, public employee strikes are often illegal. But public employee unions still strike to hold a city hostage, blatantly defying the law. And looking at the statistics, unionizing increases the likelihood of such an illegal strike--by four times. (Recall December's NYC transit strike.)
- From the book: when polled, a majority of union members prefer to have the union spend their dues money only on negotiations and things related directly to them. Union leaders ignore this and spend money on political campaigns at will.
(Please keep in mind that each commenter's opinions are only his/her own.)
Unions are only part of the problem, though. Big-wig-muckety-mucks are another part. Case in point, my father's former employer.
My dad was an engineer for company X. As he was "management" he was not part of the union. When negotiations with the labor union arose, like any good negotiator, the union came to the table asking WAY more than they imagined they would actually get. The big-wig-muckety-mucks, concerned as they had been with simply keeping their fat paychecks another year and maintaining the status-quo, they gave them everything they asked for.
Later, my dad was out on the factory floor and talking with a co-worker of his who was in the union and his words were "I can't believe they gave us that! We NEVER thought they'd give us that!"
Now? The product they were most known for, the product that had decades - maybe over a century - of American development and ingenuity and history behind it, the hallmark product of the company is no longer being made. They had to cut expenses. I'm sure jobs were lost as well. The company essentially cut of it's nose in spite of it's face.
So, the Union in this case is bad, but the idiots in charge of the company are just as much to blame.
So the big-wig-muckety-mucks blew it by not standing up to the union's demands.
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