Who won the battle of Wisconsin? Republican Gov. Scott Walker got a legislative victory. On the other hand, Democrats, with a wary eye on 2012 and noting the worrying drop in support for President Obama in union-heavy states like Pennsylvania and Michigan, claim to be delighted that Walker has picked this fight.
"Republicans have done organized labor a great favor by putting the movement back in (the) labor movement, creating a level of passion and activism for workers' rights that hasn't been seen in generations," crowed Democratic strategist Mike Lux.
Maybe so. Though the three-week tantrum by union protesters in Madison (which escalated to harassment of Republican legislators by the Party of Civility), along with the flight of Democratic legislators to Illinois may well offend more Americans than it energizes.
Polling is equivocal. A national poll by Rasmussen found that 48 percent supported Walker while only 38 percent favored the unions. A highly significant 56 percent of independents sided with the governor. On the other hand, a CBS/New York Times poll found that 56 percent of those surveyed opposed reducing pay or benefits of public employees in order to balance state budgets, and 60 percent opposed weakening the bargaining rights of public employees.
Let's stipulate that polls can suffer from tendentious wording. Nevertheless, the public's response to the Madison imbroglio suggests that Republican budget cutters have not completely made their case.
Republicans may need to put greater emphasis on the difference between private- and public-sector unions. In a private-sector company, when unions negotiate with management, there is a limiting factor at work -- the company must remain profitable or everyone is out of a job. In the case of public-sector unions, "management" consists of elected officials, and the city, state, or federal government is the employer. Profit or loss is irrelevant, so there is no limiting factor. If unions receive more and more generous pay and benefits, it's the taxpayers who are on the hook, not "management."
Franklin D. Roosevelt was as radical as Scott Walker. In 1937, he said, "All government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management." Former AFL-CIO president George Meany agreed, saying, "It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government."