"I came here to drink milk and kick ass. And I've just finished my milk." - Moss, The IT Crowd

Sunday, March 13, 2011

This is what democracy looks like

Let me start by saying that I'm not a big fan of unions as they often exist in practice. Too often unions are focused on extracting dues from members and ensuring jobs for every worker who pays up for membership, regardless of the worker's actual competence and effort on the job. As someone who has worked in a government office in the past, I think that a culture in which poor performers have job security sows the seeds of waste and dysfunction, and frequently chases off the best employees, who see better-compensated job opportunities elsewhere that actually reward merit. (Of course, we manage to have this problem in Texas without collective bargaining for public employees.) And unions often end up supporting a non-merit-based culture to curry support from the bottom 50% of performers, rather than focusing on promoting fair treatment, fair wages, humane leave policies, and good healthcare.

That said, I also believe that the existence of unions is responsible for many of the benefits enjoyed by most full-time employees in the United States: the weekend, paid time off, a 40-hour standard work week, healthcare benefits, a minimum wage, and family and medical leave. (Not including overtime here, because so-called "exempt" employees - basically, most people on a salary - don't receive it.)

I don't like to imagine what work life would look like for the average American if unions had never existed in this country. Collective bargaining is an extremely important avenue for remedying abuses of the fundamental imbalance in power between corporations and the individuals they employ. The appropriateness of unionization for public sector employees, who are paid with tax money, is less clear.

My mixed feelings on this issue are why I haven't been posting more about the recent excitement in Wisconsin over Gov. Scott Walker's union-busting tactics. Make no mistake: I think Gov. Walker is a lying hypocrite who is busy suckling at the Koch brothers' teats. But I don't think that the roll-back of meaningful collective bargaining for most Wisconsin public sector employees will necessarily turn into the debacle that many progressives/liberals think. And as far as I can tell, the maneuvering used to pass this measure was entirely legal, constitutional, etc.

The reason I'm posting on this topic today is that I am proud of the people continuing to protest in Wisconsin this weekend, and of the Wisconsin police who previously refused to act as Gov. Walker's palace guards and keep the public out of the government buildings run with tax money. Freedom to assemble peaceably and to express dissent in public spaces is critical for maintaining a political system that is accountable to the governed. And these freedoms are meaningless and apt to be curtailed if people do not use them.

Speak your mind, speak it loud, and most important -- VOTE.

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