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When people read this post, I don’t doubt many will find it a bit strange and somewhat incoherent. That’s because I don’t truly propose to answer the question: How have labor unions been corrupted by government? Instead, I want my readers to consider and answer that question for themselves.

What this post does is review some of the histories that people have written about labor unions. Because labor unions are so powerful, much that is in the news and our histories is deceitful. Thus, I ask you to consider two examples. The first relates to the strange reluctance to speak of the elephant in the room. The second provides a dramatic example of the damage that organized labor is doing. That example involves the children of the American people

How Have Labor Unions Been Corrupted By Government?

Everyone has their own point-of-view. Everyone has an agenda. Therefore, when we try to determine the why of some event, we almost invariably find disagreement. Whereas we see a problem, another group may not. And we may also completely disagree as to how things got the way they are. Therefore, we must suspect the accuracy of histories. Even if the “facts” are correct, other pertinent facts may have been left out. Thus, the conclusion we draw from the “facts” may be incorrect.

Googling “Labor Unions” history

Google carefully. What we see depends both upon we choose to see and what we are shown. Google “Labor Unions” history and we see websites like the following.

Labor Movement (www.history.com): As might be expected, A&E Networks paints a largely glowing picture of the labor union movement. The article ends with this statement.

The union movement became in the 1980s a diminished economic and political force, and, in the Age of Reagan, this made for a less socially just nation.

A History of Labor Unions from Colonial Times to 2009 (mises.org): The Mises Institute advocates the Austrian School of economics and libertarian political and social theory. They observed how the pressure (labor friendly laws and executive orders) exerted by the Federal Government advanced labor unionization. Here is their concluding paragraph.

Perhaps the most astounding feature revealed by this history of American unionism is that US labor markets continue to work as well as they do. Despite all the union privileges and immunities granted and a never-ending stream of federal labor interventions, the famous flexibility of US labor markets remains — a truly remarkable fact. And the vast majority of American workers remain stubbornly nonunion despite the best efforts of labor unions, the federal government, its court intellectuals, and the mass media.

Organized Labor (www.ushistory.org): Instead of focusing on social justice or economics, historians tend to have a broader view of history. Hence, ushistory.org focuses on major events and characters. Supposedly, there is no underlying message. Nonetheless, like everyone else historians retain their own biases. Thus, instead of government favoritism towards unions, ushistory.org focuses on government favoritism towards corporate fat cats. Their hero is Samuel Gompers.

Keep it simple. That was the mantra of labor leader Samuel Gompers. He was a diehard capitalist and saw no need for a radical restructuring of America. Gompers quickly learned that the issues that workers cared about most deeply were personal. They wanted higher wages and better working conditions.

The Labor Union Movement in America (www.socialstudieshelp.com): socialstudieshelp.com seems to be aimed at high school students and teachers. Like ushistory.org, socialstudieshelp.com finds recent labor union history uninteresting. The last paragraph lists all the reasons why labor unions have become almost irrelevant.  There is no mention of the large number of government workers in today’s labor unions.

How Labor Unions Work (howstuffworks.com):  HowStuffWorks, a wholly owned subsidiary of Discovery Communications, studiously avoids controversy; it aims to  provide a fairly straightforward presentation of how labor unions work. If you have a child doing a homework assignment on labor unions, I suppose this is the place to start. However, like most of the websites in this list, there is no mention of the large number government workers in today’s labor unions.

Of the sites we have thus far considered, only The Mises Institute‘s post, A History of Labor Unions from Colonial Times to 2009, seriously considered the implications of public-sector labor unions. Why is that? What if we modify our search?

Googling “Public-Sector Unions” history

Googling “Public-Sector Unions” history markedly changes the nature of the hits.

The Trouble with Public Sector Unions (www.nationalaffairs.com): Remember when Chris Christie became New Jersey’s governor? Christie is no Conservative, but he did take on New Jersey’s public sector unions. If he wants to balance New Jersey’s budget, he has no other choice. Consider just this one example. How would you like a constitutional guarantee for your pension?

The skyrocketing costs of public employees’ pensions now present a huge challenge to state and local governments. If allowed to persist, such massive obligations will inevitably force a fundamental re-ordering of government priorities. After all, if government must spend more on pensions, it cannot spend more on schools, roads, and relief for the poor — in other words, the basic functions people expect their governments to perform. But because many states’ pension commitments are constitutionally guaranteed, there is no easy way out of this financial sink hole.

A Brief, Illustrated History of the Public Sector Unions That, Together With The Democrat Party, Are Waging War on the Taxpayer (directorblue.blogspot.com): The title of this post explains the content, and pictures and charts make up much of the content.

Public Sector Unions (www.opensecrets.org): The post is not an about the history of public sector unions. Nonetheless, because the growth and influence of public sector unions is a relatively recent phenomenon (took off when President John F. Kennedy granted federal employees the right to collectively bargain), it is appropriate. With simple charts, OpenSecrets.org demonstrates the party bias of public sector unions.

Public Sector Labor Unions Evolve Over A Century (www.npr.org): Here for fun we can listen to the sophistry of Joseph Slater, a University of Toledo law professor, as he talks to Steve Inskeep.

Paul Moreno: How Public Unions Became So Powerful (online.wsj.com): Here is an editorial that finally gets to the point.

Public unions do well in flush times like the 1950s and 1960s, but they suffer when taxpayers feel their true cost, as in the 1970s—and today.

Corrupted Or The Corrupter?

So how have labor unions been corrupted by government? And what is the problem posed by public-sector unions? The problem is a conflict of interest. When government provides the public a service (policing the streets, road construction and maintenance, public education, and so forth), it gives itself a monopoly or near monopoly. To the keep operation of these services under their control, the public elects officials to run the government. Unfortunately, public-sector unions can radically undermine the public’s control. That is been especially true with respect to public education.

Stanford University political scientist Terry Moe has made exactly this argument with respect to the education sector. “Teachers unions have more influence on the public schools than any other group in American society,” Moe argues. “Their massive memberships and awesome resources give them unrivaled power in the politics of education, allowing them to affect which policies are imposed on the schools by government — and to block reforms they don’t like.” One need only look at the debates over charter-school caps or merit-pay proposals to see Moe’s point. (from here)

Terry Moe speaks of teachers unions corrupting the public’s control of the school system. Yet most articles about labor unions also mention good things they have accomplished. Typical examples include decent pay for their workers, laws restricting child labor, and the 40-hour work week. In fact, the corruption does work both ways. Because even his Democratic Party predecessors had spoken on the dangers of allowing government workers to unionize, President John F. Kennedy had to know the risk. Nonetheless, he gets the credit for initiating the huge growth in public-sector unions.

The explanation for the sudden burst of government unionization is another intervention, namely, President John F. Kennedy’s Executive Order 10988 promoting unionism in the federal bureaucracy, which he signed in January 1962. Kennedy had received considerable campaign support from unions and his executive order declared that “the efficient administration of the government and the well-being of employees requires that orderly and constructive relationships be maintained between employee organizations and management.” (from here)

So did government corrupt the union movement or did the unions corrupt our government. Did the chicken or the egg come first? That is a question we cannot answer. What we can know is that workers formed unions to fight management, management that some of the histories we reviewed say had formed alliances with government officials. Unfortunately, instead of condemning improper alliances between government and business, union organizers have armed themselves with their own such alliances. And they have done so to the detriment of our children.

Here is an example written by Thomas Sowell.

The Left Versus Minorities

If anyone wanted to pick a time and place where the political left’s avowed concern for minorities was definitively exposed as a fraud, it would be now — and the place would be New York City, where far left Mayor Bill de Blasio has launched an attack on charter schools, cutting their funding, among other things.

These schools have given thousands of low income minority children their only shot at a decent education, which often means their only shot at a decent life. Last year 82 percent of the students at a charter school called Success Academy passed city-wide mathematics exams, compared to 30 percent of the students in the city as a whole.

Why would anybody who has any concern at all about minority young people — or even common decency — want to destroy what progress has already been made? (continued here)

President Barack H. Obama has created similar problems for school vouchers.

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