As the conflict in Wisconsin over Gov. Walker's proposal to strip unions of their right to collective bargaining continues, I find that many still do not understand what the debate is all about and why Walker's actions are terribly wrong and even deeply immoral.
First, let us dispel a few red herrings. This debate is not about whether unions have their flaws and foibles. Unions, like any other organization, have weak points, make mistakes, and are imperfect. So what? The criticisms of unions are no different than any other type organization. Second, the debate in Wisconsin has nothing to do with "balancing a budget" or "reducing the state deficit." To begin with, taking away the right of unions to bargain collectively does ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to reduce a deficit. Even worse, since Walker created the so-called deficit by giving tax breaks to his rich donors and even refusing stimulus money and the jobs that would be created by high speed rail, he can hardly say that we "must" strip unions of anything, let alone their right to bargain collectively!
Second, there are those who think this is about union members' greed. The unions have agreed - I would not have - to the cuts in their pensions and to pay more for health care. They insist only on holding onto to collective bargaining. Furthermore, many of the same people who insists that teachers are greedy for having a good health care plan also claim (out of the other side of their face I guess) that we have no right to raise any taxes on millionaires! If I hear from someone that millionaires should be given a break from their estate tax, but that teachers getting a solid pension is what we should really cut, I will simply laugh off this kind of stupidity and address it no further.
Third, I hear, all too often I am afraid, that public employees should not be given "fat benefits" that private employees lack. This is just absurd! If you think that public employees enjoy better jobs than their private sector counterparts, then you should fight to bring back union membership to private workers, to get them those "fat benefits," rather than want to remove them from public employees! Again, however, this misses the point. Unionized public employees and their allies are not fighting for better benefits, but for their right to bargain collectively! Let's please stay on track here.
These red herrings dispelled, we can now look at the justification for the existence of unions. In the employee/employer relationship the employer has all the power. The employer pays the wages, hires and fires, decides who takes breaks, when, and for how long, and so forth. If each employee must face their employer alone, they simply lack the power to fight for better wages, more time off, better working conditions, etc. The only way for employees to have anything like the power of their employer in this relationship is to come together and bargain collectively. This is what a union is, this is why unions are needed, and this is why their right to collectively bargain must be preserved.
The heart of the Battle in Wisconsin, and other states, is the battle to allow working people some power, some equality, some voice in determining their working conditions. As the collapse of unions in the private sector has already made clear, when unions go, working conditions for people fall dramatically. Without the existence of unions the power is solely in the hands of the employer, and we should all have long since understood that history clearly reveals that in any and all relationships where the power is all one side, the powerless never find themselves treated justly.