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Opinion

Wisconsin unions vs. Governor Walker is a battle for the soul of America

As even pro-union FDR understood, collective-bargaining rights for government workers is the ultimate conflict of interest. What is really at stake in the Wisconsin donnybrook is whether individual liberty or government power has the upper hand in our country.

By Mark Hendrickson / February 22, 2011



Grove City, Pa.

It is hard to overstate what is at stake in the dramatic showdown between Wisconsin’s teachers and their Republican governor and legislature. The political and economic course of our country hinges on how the issue of public sector unions is resolved, in Wisconsin and elsewhere.

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For the sake of our country’s political and economic future, Gov. Scott Walker and his Republican colleagues need to prevail in the current contest with the Wisconsin teachers’ union and their allies.

That isn’t easy for me to say. As an educator, I have great respect for all those (and they are many) in my chosen profession who capably and even brilliantly serve our nation’s youth. The fact is, though, that the status quo is untenable.

The budget crunch isn’t merely a projected crisis some 30 years in the future. Right now, several state and local governments are careening toward fiscal disaster. There are many factors, of course, but a major one is that retirement plans for public-sector workers are spectacularly underfunded, perhaps by as much as $3 trillion dollars nationwide.

Can't spend what you don't have

Governor Walker is being cast as the ogre for proposing to avert the onrushing flood of red ink, but the blame properly belongs to his predecessors who made unaffordable and unkeepable promises. All but the most zealous ideologues will admit that you can’t spend what you don’t have, and even some Wisconsin teachers are now indicating a willingness to help balance the state’s budget by contributing more to their pension and health benefits.

Politically, this battle is the ultimate partisan clash. Unions and the Democratic Party are joined at the hip. Unions collect mandatory dues from their members, then contribute massive financial and human support to the electoral campaigns of their political allies (overwhelmingly Democrats). Democrat office-holders repay these favors by granting unions generous legislated benefits, both monetary and in the form of rules that strengthen the political power of union officials. Wisconsin’s Democratic senators took the extraordinary step of fleeing the state in what appears to be a desperate ploy to preserve the flood of union money coming to them, while Republicans seem every bit as hopeful of reducing the flow of tax dollars to their political opponents.

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