Ed Feulner

“Raise our taxes!” Can you imagine chanting such a slogan at a public rally? Neither could most Americans.

There is one notable exception, however: government-union activists. They’re pretty explicit these days about their desire to see taxes go up.

If that surprises you, you may be unaware of how dramatically the face of organized labor has changed over the last few decades. There’s a very good reason they’ve got your wallet in their sights -- more and more, that’s where their wages comes from.

To see why, it’s vital to understand the difference between unions in the private sector (steelworkers, autoworkers, etc.) and unions in the public sector (government).

Private-sector union membership has been in steep decline. Back in 1980, one out of every five private-sector workers belonged to a union. Thirty years later, less than 7 percent do. That’s fewer than one in 14. But over the same period, government-union membership has been climbing. Today, in fact, more than half of all union members (52 percent) work for the government.

So when they lobby “management” (i.e., elected officials) for wage hikes and other benefits, that money isn’t coming out of the bank account of some private company. It’s coming from you and me. When those elected officials say, “We’re in the red. We have to balance our budget, and we can’t pay you more,” government-union activists reply: “Raise our taxes!”

Of course, they don’t just say it. Government-union leaders spend millions of dollars trying to elect politicians who are open to tax hikes. They were the top outside spenders in the last election. They put their money where their mouth is, all in the hopes of putting your money where their coffers are.

This circular arrangement may be nice and cozy for union leaders and their big-government buddies, but it’s a disaster for the taxpayers they’re exploiting. If taxes aren’t raised to satisfy their demands, will workers “strike” from providing government services? They can -- and they have (e.g., the New York City transit strike of 2005). Even President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who signed the National Labor Relations Act, called such a prospect “unthinkable and intolerable.”

As George Meany, president of the AFL-CIO from 1955 to 1979, once noted, “It is impossible to bargain collectively with government.” President Roosevelt agreed: “The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service.” When it is, it sets up a chain reaction of painful choices.

Ed Feulner

Dr. Edwin Feulner is Founder of The Heritage Foundation, a Townhall.com Gold Partner, and co-author of Getting America Right: The True Conservative Values Our Nation Needs Today .
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