This past Saturday, MoveOn.org organized a series of pro-union rallies in every state capitol in the country designed to show support for the public sector union workers in Wisconsin. As a working man who happens to live in a state capitol, I decided to do what any red-blooded American would do.
I crashed the rally.
Before I go any further, I should clarify I am not anti-union nor am I anti-teacher, anti-worker, or whatever other label the Left wants to slap on people like me. I am, however, pro-taxpayer, and when it comes to public sector unions, we're dealing with union employees whose benefits are paid by taxpayers. In a situation like that, taxpayers are often not represented well, if at all, when public sector unions make demands, which gives the public sector unions a decided advantage at the negotiating table.
That dynamic changed in Wisconsin with the election of Scott Walker and Republicans in their legislature. Instead of having an easy path to getting what they want, public sector unions finally had to put up a bit of a struggle, especially after Walker made it clear he was going to ask unions to make concessions as a means to try to get state spending under control. One of those concessions was to have the public sector unions give up collective bargaining except when it came to salaries. Unions, and MoveOn.org, objected.
That brings us to the union rallies across the country. For the most part, it was a pretty civil affair. There were occasional snide comments about "corporate fat cats" and "politicians in the back pocket of Big Business" (oh, and the occasional shouting match and vague threats of violence against me for carrying a sign reading "Real workers don't have 'sick-ins.'"), but most left me alone.
From my vantage point, I saw and heard a lot of things that gave me pause. First, the union protesters kept trying to seamlessly fuse the public sector unions and the private sector unions, even though there are distinct differences between the two. I understand they wanted to show solidarity with their union brethren in Wisconsin, but it's like swapping a German Shepherd with a French poodle to guard your property. Sure, they're both dogs, but the differences between the two are stark. Plus, the poodle would surrender at the slightest sign of trouble.
Second, the union speakers were complaining about matters that unions been complaining about for decades. Yet, things aren't getting any better. To me, that's a sign of the failure of unions across the country, public and private. With union membership declining, having the same message with the same failure rate isn't a good sign. In a way, unions are becoming dinosaurs, and they may be heading for the same fate as the dinosaurs unless they change their approach.
Judging from the people at the rally on Saturday, I don't see that happening anytime soon.
Third, there are still people within unions who try to act as "enforcers," but they don't know how to handle people who aren't afraid of them or who understand their tactics and have ways to overcome them. I did have a couple of minor run-ins with union folks who didn't like my sign or my position on the Wisconsin situation, so they tried to get me to leave through intimidation, by threat of physical harm or legal repercussions. When I presented a firm challenge to their authority, the "enforcers" became toothless and the fight went out of them.
All in all, it was an interesting afternoon among the union folks. We may not have agreed, but the exercise of free speech was refreshing in an era where people take the exchange of ideas for granted.