Note: Apologies for those of you who aren't particularly interested in my long political ramblings-- but the 'hide most of text' feature has disappeared!
One thing's for sure: labor unions in America are under unexpected siege. In case you didn't know 'bout this, here's a generic mainstream account from USA Today and Fox News (I know I know, but hey-- gotta hear all sides right?)
On the surface, this bill is allegedly trying to ensure fairness to the workers, first and foremost. Conservatives have long made the arguments which underlie the Wisconsin measure. After all if a worker applies for, deserves, and is hired for a job, then the Republican "right to work" philosophy holds that that individual should have the right to do that job, without being forced to join a union and pay its dues. And as the argument goes on--since unions are political organizations, why should any willing worker be forced to contribute to politics he disagrees with, just so he can earn a living?
These are strong arguments. I agree that in an ideal world, that would not need to happen. But what happens if unions cannot require membership? What is known in economics as the "free rider problem" surfaces:
If no individual employee is required to contribute money (unions dues) to the central [union] pot from which everyone takes [benefits from union negotiations], then not enough people will voluntarily contribute to keep the union alive. There's much more to the proposed Wisconsin measure but that dynamic is the most threatening.
That said, I just want to put out there that I agree with Republicans; I agree that union membership practices can be unfair; I agree that public unions can sometimes act greedily; I agree that union members often don't put the interest of those they serve first (i.e., schoolchildren).
Problems these may be, but what social institution or group does not engage in this behavior sometimes? By demonizing labor unions as they have and are, Republicans argue that citizens pursuing their economic self-interest is wrong.
There exists a huge legal superstructure in this country and worldwide which allows individual businessmen/investors to pool their resources and form a corporation. A corporation can use its size to negotiate and manipulate market prices; it uses legal/administrative power to defend its interests financial or otherwise; in fact, in most countries a corporation is literally considered a legal citizen!
FLAWS OF CAPITALISM BE DAMNED! EFFICIENCY AND PROFIT-MAXIMIZATION RULE THE DAY!!
So why doesn't Wisconsin's governor give hardworking citizens as much benefit of the doubt as he implicitly gives Big Business? Why shouldn't individual workers be able to organize into groups just as businessmen & investors can? Why shouldn't workers be allowed to pool their resources just as any business can do? Why can Wal-Mart put entire companies out of business because of its negotiating power, but a few thousand workers cannot press for more benefits?
Because any society is only as "free" as its shareholders. So far.