Chris Powell: Public-sector unions must be busted for the public interest

Are unions intrinsically good? Of course that is their premise, a premise often on display now that  Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, facing the collapse of state government's tax revenue, is trying to economize with state government's workforce and Hartford's new mayor, Luke Bronin, facing worse insolvency in a city of abject dependence, is trying to do the same with the city's workforce. The governor and the mayor are being accused of "union busting."

Unions have been crucial to the restraining of rapacious capital. But labor and capital pursue their own interests, and these interests are often opposed to the public interest, as when both labor and capital seek to block competition in the economy. (The best artistic depiction of their equally selfish instincts may be the 1951 Alec Guinness movie The Man in the White Suit, wherein textile manufacturers and the textile workers union unite to suppress the discovery of a fabric that never gets dirty and never wears out, threatening the clothing and laundry industries.)

So the public interest has to make distinctions. That means distinguishing between private-sector unions and government-employee unions. Private-sector unions often have defeated the exploitation of the many by the few. But government-employee unions are often the few exploiting the many, exploiting society as a whole.

A few generations ago even liberal politicians understood this distinction. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Democrat, and New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, a Republican, opposed collective bargaining for government employees, partly because of the prospect later celebrated by the leader of the largest government-employee union in New York City, Victor Gotbaum: "We have the power to elect our own boss."

That is, with collective bargaining for government employees, government came to bestow great patronage on them and, through their unions, those employees kicked back to the campaigns of the elected officials bestowing that patronage, thereby making the unions a government-funded special interest that overwhelmed the public interest.Chr

So in this respect "union busting" is as essential to restoring government in the public interest in Connecticut as busting the big financial houses is essential to restoring the federal government to the public interest.


Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.