Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Why not support government unions? You support NFL unions!

Jerry Stratton, September 15, 2015

There’s a meme going around asking, “you support this union, why not this one?”

On the top is a football team, and on the bottom are teachers.

The answer is the difference between private sector unions and government unions.

One of these is a violent gang who will destroy property and drag you into the street if you anger them.

The other plays football.

That’s not tongue-in-cheek if you’re in Wisconsin. It literally happened. Really, literally. In bed, literally, with a member of the teacher’s union, Democrat John Chisholm had police break down doors with battering rams, guns drawn on entire families, stealing everything they could, dragging political opponents off to jail in front of their neighbors, all with “no reasonable expectation of obtaining a valid conviction.”

Here’s the difference between those two unions:

  • The ones on the top negotiate with their bosses for more of their bosses’ money. Their bosses want to hire and retain good employees so as to increase their own profits, but also need to make sure that the team doesn’t go bankrupt. Anyone who decides that they want to watch another team or even another sport can do so with no backlash.

  • The ones on the bottom negotiate with politicians for more of the taxpayer’s money, which they use to donate to the politician’s election campaign. It is in each side’s interest to spend more taxpayer money and then complain about lack of funding. Teacher quality barely enters into it, because good teacher or bad teacher, parents can’t choose another “team”. And anyone who supports changing the system runs the risk of men with guns breaking down their doors and dragging them off while their neighbors watch.

I have alluded in the past to not caring much one way or the other about private sector unions, but that government unions are a very bad idea. The distinction is simple: in the first case, unions and employers negotiate for how much of the company’s profits go to the employees, as opposed to the owners, management, research and development, expansion, and so forth. They are two sides negotiating over how much of the pie to split up vs. how many more pies to make. They are two sides each negotiating over the responsibilities of the other.

Government unions negotiate with politicians over how much of someone else’s money to take. They are two sides of the same team deciding how much of a third party’s money to take. Two sides “negotiating” over the responsibilities of someone else entirely. And all the power of government will force that third party to adhere to the agreement.

Not only does this make for skewed financial incentives, it makes for skewed policy incentives. Private sector employees at the negotiating table want more money and more benefits and more flexibility but they also want the company to stay in business and not just stay in business but thrive. Private sector employers want to reserve more money for research and expansion (and their own salaries) but also want to attract better employees and keep the good ones they have. A private company with bad employees cannot go to consumers and say, “just pay us more and we will get better.”

That compromise between benefits and improvement does not exist in government. It’s no skin off either party’s back if taxpayers have to pay more or go further in debt. It’s no skin off either party’s back if bad teachers are danced around in a dance of the lemons. It’s only a problem for parents and students, and they’re not at the table.

There’s another meme going around, especially on protest signs, that “Hitler also abolished unions”. It’s true, but it doesn’t make the argument the protestors think: Hitler abolished private sector unions, and replaced them with… government unions. Socialists, even National Socialists, love government unions, because it gives the government more control over workers.

It isn’t teacher’s unions that are the problem. It is government unions. I absolutely support teacher unions—as long as the teachers are not working for government, and as long as government doesn’t try to turn the private sector union into a government union. As long as parents have the right to take their money and their kid and choose their child’s education. As long as employees have the right to join or handle their negotiations themselves. And especially as long as government employees don’t negotiate with each other for our money and then use that money to bribe officials into harassing people who disagree.

The really frightening thing for unions—real unions, private sector unions—ought to be that the more government unions try to say that they are just like real unions, the more the public is going to start hating real unions for the sins of government unions.

In response to 2015 in photos: For photos and perhaps other quick notes sent from my mobile device or written on the fly during 2015.

  1. <- Government Quakers
  2. Dazzling Labrys ->