The debate over public unions has become increasingly intense, to the point of splitting families, even in once-solid union country.

Please consider In union strongholds, residents wrestle with cuts

In Midwestern union strongholds, residents torn over proposals to curb union benefits, powers.

There once was a time when Harry and Nancy Harrington — their teenage children in tow — walked the picket line outside the nursing home where she was a medical aide, protesting the lack of a pension plan for the unionized work force.

But those days of family solidarity are gone.

Harry now blames years of union demands for an exodus of manufacturing jobs from this blue-collar city on the shore of Lake Michigan. He praises new Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker for attempting to strip public employee unions of nearly all of their collective bargaining rights.

“I’m sorry, but the unions want to yell, they want to intimidate,” says Harry Harrington, 69, as he sets a coffee cup down next to another newspaper headline about the union demonstrations.

“They want to be heard,” retorts Nancy Harrington, 66, who fears a weakened union would jeopardize the teaching career of their now 38-year-old daughter.

The Harringtons typify the new national reality for labor unions. Support is no longer a sure thing from the middle class — not even in a city long considered a union stronghold in a state that gave birth to the nation’s largest public employee union. National polls show that the portion of the public that views unions favorably has dropped to near historic lows in recent years, dipping below 50 percent by some accounts.

In Racine, a nearly two-hour drive southeast of the epicenter of the union controversy in Madison, the question of the union’s appropriate role has divided husband and wife, mother and child, co-workers and friends. It’s the hot topic on editorial pages, at coffee shops, even at the craft club that meets in the community center at Roosevelt Park, where a dozen retired women recently were talking over the top of each other about union powers while knitting socks and hats.

Yet the teachers union is not the power it once was in the Racine area. Despite a well-funded media campaign, the union’s candidate, Democratic state Sen. John Lehmen, of Racine — a former high school teacher — was ousted by Republican challenger Van Wanggaard in last fall’s election. District voters also picked Walker over Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett.

Debate a Good Thing

This debate is a good thing. Debate portends change. Until recently few cared how much public unions and their untenable benefits were raping taxpayers. Now many do, and it’s a start.

Unions have struck back of course, primarily by the same fear-mongering, extortionist tactics they always have. However, battles like these are not won in a day. Progress continues in Ohio, Wisconsin, Tennessee, New Jersey, and even California.

That’s a good start.

A few years ago the only people talking about these issues were Jack Dean at Pension Tsunami and I. Even now, most bloggers have ignored the issue. Unfortunately, some bloggers such as Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism and Leo Kolivakis at Pension Pulse are on the wrong side of it.

The facts are indisputable however.

  • No one speaks for the taxpayer in so-called collective bargaining negotiations
  • Public unions are in power via a constant barrage of extortion, coercion, bribery, and backroom dealing.
  • Public unions have bankrupted countless cities and many states.
  • Public unions and collective bargaining are tantamount to slavery

For a look at the slavery debate, please consider Paul Krugman, Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher, others, Ignore Extortion, Bribery, Coercion, and Slavery; No One Should Own You!

The more the issues are discussed, the better the chances of change to address the problems.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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