Divide and conquer. Then conquer again.

So I hear the land of the Cheeseheads is going ham lately…

Wisconsin’s state budget has a projected $3 billion hole in it.  The governor Scott Walker proposed as a means to deal with that stripping all state & local government employees (with an exception for cops, of course, since right-wingers love the police) of collective bargaining power.  Naturally, hilarity has ensued: protests broke out at the Capitol, enough teachers played hooky across the state to join them for several schools to shut down during the week, and several state legislators opposed to the bill went on the run to prevent a vote.  The story has gone national, with the attention whores for each side jumping in & comparisons flying around by media pundits of what’s going on in Madison to Cairo…all in all, interesting times.

When I hear about these huge gaps in state budgets, I find myself asking “just WTF are they spending the money on?”.  I don’t know the answer to that in this case.  While there are cases of overly generous benefits for government employees — many of those recipients being, as Kevin Drum points out, the boys in blue — I strongly doubt that alone accounts for the hole, both in this case and in general when this is brought up.  Temperamentally, I’m not a fan of government unions, but the operative word there is obviously “government” in my case.  For a lot of people though, there’s a certain chord struck in their complaints:

“those gov’t workers are getting way more than I am, off of MY tax dollars!”

This sentiment, ironically for being largely the domain of the Right, suggests class conflict, with local & state government workers seen as an overfed privileged elite compared to Joe Average.  Since the assumption this is based on is that they (irrationally, in this view) get so much more than private sector workers, we have a simple question: do they?  Turns out the answer is “barely in pay, definitely in benefits”.  The entry this information comes in though hints at why:

In 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics data showed that 36.2 percent of public sector workers were unionized, compared to a 6.9 percent union membership rate for private sector workers. Workers in education, training, and library occupations had the highest unionization rate at 37.1 percent.

A long-term strategy was implemented that neutered organized labor in the private sector, breaking their influence down to pretty much nothing.  Government employees largely avoided this until now.  In other words, it’s not that teachers (for example) have been elevated to a privileged class, it’s that others around them were dropped.  That rectifying this is discussed solely in terms of breaking organized labor in state & local government, rather than removing the boot from the back of all other labor, should tell you something.

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About b-psycho

Left-libertarian blogger & occasional musician.
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3 Responses to Divide and conquer. Then conquer again.

  1. Todd S. says:

    Well, at the state and local level there probably isn’t a huge pay discrepancy. I’ve seen figures that show the federal worker makes about 1.8x what his private sector counterpart makes though – and the handful of federal workers I know who do what I do (programming) definitely seems to bear this out.

    The concept of public sector workers has always bugged me though. The existence of government worker unions with collective bargaining agreements is a tacit admission that we most certainly don’t have a government “by the people”.

  2. Todd S. says:

    Interesting to note too that according to data from the last census, the three demographic areas with the highest median incomes are all DC suburbs.

  3. B Psycho says:

    I figured as much w/r/t federal workers. For positions that have a parallel outside of the feds compensation is competitive, and there’s an air of status attached also from what I’ve seen. I’m curious what federal employees think of this, whether they identify as “fellow gov’t workers” or see enough difference to react otherwise.

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