We Are Living in Andy Stern's "Ugly" Democracy


Smiles, everyone, smiles!

Former Services Employee International Union chief Andy Stern–who, you should never forget, is on President Barack Obama's Fiscal Commission to reduce the deficit one of these decades here–has a five-things-you-need-to-know-about-Wisconsin piece up for The Daily Beast. It's a valuable glimpse into the mindset of a labor movement that has re-focused over the past couple of decades on the once-guaranteed revenue streams of the public sector. I swear to God these are the first two items on Stern's list:

1. Wisconsin's Budget Deficit Is Far from the Nation's Largest

2. Wall Street Created the Fiscal Crisis, Not Unions

Re: the second point, the fiscal crisis could have been caused by a meteor, and it still wouldn't make a damn bit of difference to the problem at hand. Recessions are like margin calls: Forced with making a snap decision about what your insufficient funds really need to cover, you start to notice all kind of expenditures that escaped your atttention before. Such as the 81 percent increase in aggregate state spending in the comparative good times between 2002 and 2007, a 40 percent increase in tax revenue over that same period, and routine 500 percent increases in public sector pension costs over the past decade or so

Speaking of which,

3. Public-Sector Pension Plans Are Not the Problem

ORLY? Coulda fooled Jerry Brown (and Willie Brown, and an increasing number of blue-state Democrats in good standing with Big Labor).

And speaking of California, which was really the canary of this particular coal mine, let us never forget what Andy Stern himself said in 2009, when confronted with the accusation that public sector unionism is sinking the Golden State:

Goddamn right-wingers!

Democracy is an ugly picture sometimes, people do have rights, the business community does similar things from the outside. We used to always complain about how many of our members can give a $5,000, $25,000, $30,000 check to a candidate. How many people have the same ability to get their contract, subcontract? I think government has always been a place where a variety of interests—if you go to Washington there's a whole K Street group of people that spend their life trying to shape policy. The fact that we're organized from inside as opposed to organized from outside you may think has more advantages, but any organized voting bloc of any kind, or any organized financial bloc, honestly impacts democracy. That's just the system we've set up, and no one seems to mind that the Chamber of Commerce can fly 100 people in and threaten to not elect people if they don't do things because they either don't have a union contract or they're not government employees. I don't know how you stop people from participating. …

So you really have to get to the question, are we going to ban public employees from participating in the political process, because it's not the fact they have a contract, it's the fact they have an organized amount of power to impact things. I don't think we're ready to ban that in this country. […]

I would say in a time of crisis people will focus on why did the unions do certain things. … I think there's another question of how did the government get bought and paid for by George Bush so that our regulatory apparatus didn't function and we ended up sort of crashing the entire American economy. …

I think democracy is an ugly thing at times; it just happens to be the best thing we've found, and I think there will always be a debate about what's the right financial support involvement that people are allowed to have.

Read Tim Cavanaugh's Reason cover story from March: "Farewell, My Lovely: How public pensions killed progressive California."