There’s More Missing from the Collective Bargaining Debate for Government Workers than Democrat Legislators

In all the coverage I’ve read, listened to, and watched concerning the public sector unions in Wisconsin and elsewhere, there is one term that is usually very much present in the political debate that seems to be conspicuously absent: special interests.

Special interests, we are so often told, have a very corrupting influence on our system of government. Special interest groups send lobbyists to Washington and the state capitals to influence legislation (usually via the tax code) in such a way that if the special interests were not part of the system, elected officials would be more inclined to represent “the people.” People from both the Left and the Right make this argument (though it seems to be made more by those on the Left) and hold up examples of the groups which are opposed to their policies as special interests; special interest groups they agree with are almost never described as such.

So far as I have noticed, proponents of either side in neither government nor in the MSM has called these public sector unions by this term. Why not?

Surely these unions qualify as special interest groups as they pour millions of dollars into the coffers of (mostly) Democrat campaigns? Can anyone argue that these unions, whether one thinks for good or ill*, don’t have a very strong influence on these politicians? Why else would Democrat legislators go AWOL if they were not scared to death of losing their power due to unhappy union leaders? This is not how legislators normally behave. Under normal circumstances, those who disagree with a bill cast their votes against the bill even when they know that they are going to be on the losing end. Under normal circumstances, the losing side doesn’t take their ball and go home.

Why shouldn’t the Democrats be condemned for caving to special interest groups as would be the case if it were Republican legislators who left their state in fear of losing support from their special interest groups?

The truth of the matter is there will always be special interest groups that will try to influence public policy as long as there is a republic. And why shouldn’t there be? Anyone who runs a business that is subject to government regulation would be very foolish not to try to participate in the system (if not, those who would regulate their business would be at an advantage). The only way to reduce the power of these special interests would be for the state and federal governments to restrict their law making and regulations to the confines of their constitutions.

But for the sake of clarity and honesty, let’s not pretend that unions are anything other than what they are: powerful special interest groups that are no more saintly than any other special interest group.

*I strongly believe for ill. I don’t believe government workers should even be legally allowed to organize as they work for taxpayers rather than private business. If government workers want more favorable benefits and salaries, they should limit their votes the ballot box like the rest of us.

  • Dr. T

    “Anyone who runs a business that is subject to government regulation would be very foolish not to try to participate in the system…”

    Microsoft ignored the federal government until accused of antitrust violations for giving away a web browser. Microsoft now hires many DC lobbyists and lawyers. Apple pretty much ignored the federal government, too, and now it is being threated with an antitrust suit. The federal government has become so powerful and intrusive that, for most large businesses, failure to engage in rent-seeking could be grounds for a shareholder lawsuit!

  • John

    Corporations aren’t humans and don’t rate protections given to humans.

    I also like the idea of tazering candidates that campaign on the promise to bring federal pork back to their district.

    The federal government is involved in things nobody sane would want them to be involved in at all.

    However, like Adam Smith advocated, government is required to keep corporate excess in check and keep individuals safe.

  • Stephen Littau


    Do you feel the same about unions or do you believe they are somehow different with respect to the human question?

  • John

    Unions, when unencumbered by organized crime, are necessary. Individual employees don’t have a say in how corporations abuse them. Having a union provides some protection for those individuals.

    Unions that cannot adapt their stance to economic reality are useless.

  • Quincy

    Public sector unions are the worst form of special interest. But they’re one politically favored by the authoritarian left, so they will *never* be publicly called that.

  • John

    No, the worst form of special interest favors corporations over humans. Governments are instituted to protect humans. The authoritarian right favors the removal of the American middle class.

  • Not Sure

    “Governments are instituted to protect humans.”

    Then why do government workers need unions?

  • John

    Why does any individual need protection from the government? Wrongful termination is the first thing that comes to mind.

  • Ken

    Part of the intrinsic nature of human beings, indeed of all life, is to acquire as much of the necessities for living with as little effort as possible.

    Our large brains with their substantial neo-cortices grant us a unique level of self awareness, hindsight and foresight. One of the influential factors this produces for us is an expansion of our consideration in scope and quantity of what constitutes the “necessities of life”.

    It is not an accident of nature that those who are capable enough, or fortunate enough to acquire more, have great influence within our groups (cultures) over the auspices of others seeking to acquire more.

    This is why, if we are to continue to provide ‘government’ with its mandate for our collective and individual protections, we must demand that its primary purpose be the protection of our liberty. Liberty and its “Gemini Twin”, responsibility, form the foundation of human capacity to betterment in all aspects.

    The power of self determination is the main reason why we find groups of people seeking the restriction or abrogation of liberty of other groups and individuals. Any group, be it government, labor, religion, industry, art or education, will always seek its own betterment at the expense of the welfare of other groups and individuals not of the group.

    Have we become so ignorant of the basic motivations and means of living things that we cannot incorporate and utilize this fundamental knowledge within our social systems and our laws? It would seem so. Either that or there are enough humans as consituents of power groups who do not wish this knowledge used because the second nature of liberty and responsibility restrict the growth of their own power with or over others.

  • Adriana

    Let the Unions keep their rights in Wisconsin, provided they are in line with the private sector!! Simple solution.

  • Not Sure

    “Why does any individual need protection from the government? Wrongful termination is the first thing that comes to mind.”

    But you just got through saying “Governments are instituted to protect humans.” Why would an organization instituted to protect humans terminate a worker wrongfully?

  • John

    Have you seen a teacher get thrown under the bus by their administration due to the hissy fits of helicopter parents?

    Why do government jackboots shoot unarmed citizens?

  • Not Sure

    “Why do government jackboots shoot unarmed citizens?”

    Apparently, because they can.

    BTW, I’m not the one who said:

    “Governments are instituted to protect humans.”

    Going back to the union thing…

    “Why does any individual need protection from the government? Wrongful termination is the first thing that comes to mind.”

    What about being forced against your will to pay for government employee benefits (retitrement, health, etc.) over and above what you consider to be reasonable, by the government that’s supposed (according to you, anyway) to be protecting you?

    Where’s the protection from *that*?

  • Quincy

    What part of protecting public sector workers requires unions to buy off politicians who hand them benefits at the expense of the average citizen?

  • John

    What part of protecting citizens involves murdering tens of thousands around the world, paid for with tax payer money and provoked by private sector bribes? Why are tax payers required to pay that cost in cash and lives?

    Hmmm, sometimes governments make mistakes.

  • Quincy

    John, interesting reply. Unfortunately, not all replies are answers.

    To claim that the unions’ dominant strategy for the last half century is merely a “mistake” is ridiculous. In fact, it’s about as ridiculous as claiming that wars waged for reasons other than protecting the people were “mistakes”.