At this point, the liberal tactic of painting just about every domestic policy battle as a fight between the big corporate money guys and the poor, powerless little people has been used so often that it's starting to seem like some sort of twitch. You can see this on display all over in coverage and commentary about the protests in Wisconsin. See, for example, Paul Krugman's column today, in which he asserts that "anyone who believes that we need some counterweight to the political power of big money should be on the demonstrators' side." The Washington Examiner's Timothy Carney shoots this down rather neatly:
The unions are big money. Five of the top ten contributors to congressional and presidential campaigns since 1989 are labor unions according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In the last election, 10 of the top 20 PACs were union PACs.
More importantly, it's not as if Big Labor is balancing out the rest of "big money." Does Krugman know that all of the top ten industries contributing to the 2010 elections gave more money to Democrats than to Republicans? That's right: Lawyers, Health Professionals, Securities & Investment, Real Estate, Insurance, Lobbyists, Pharma, Government Unions, Entertainment, and Electric Utilities all favored Democrats in 2010.
In other words, a lot of the "big corporate money" spent on political donations in 2010—the money to which unions are supposedly providing a counterweight—went to the same party that most of the union money went to, and the party whose political machine has helped back the union-led protests.
So I might suggest a different way of thinking about who's really on the other side of public-sector union power plays: It's taxpayers. Nationwide, estimates suggest states will be stuck with $82 billion in shortfalls just this year—perhaps quite a bit more. And there are long-term problems too: Wisconsin faces not just a broken budget this year, but $77 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, the fourth largest unfunded pension liability in the nation. Either the public compensation system will have to be reformed, or taxpayers will have to foot the bill. Who's really in need of a counterweight here?