President Obama and the Left love to use Ronald Reagan to illustrate the rightward shift within the Republican Party since the Gipper left the White House or to advocate for some liberal policy by claiming, “Reagan agreed with us!”
Recently, President Obama’s White House edited Reagan’s official White House biography to include a reference to Obama’s proposed “Buffett Rule.” Obama claimed at the Associated Press luncheon in April of this year that Reagan “could not get through a Republican primary today.”
The DailyKos last night picked up the Reagan strategy with this headline: “Ronald Reagan endorses Tom Barrett for Governor”
The post includes a clip of then-Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan’s Labor Day 1980 speech at Liberty State Park in New Jersey against the backdrop of the Statue of Liberty. You can read the full speech here.
Kos blogger “TheNewDeal00” (whose avatar is that of Franklin D. Roosevelt, which is important later) hones in on one line:
“Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost.”
Reagan was referring to the plight of workers in Communist Poland, whose struggle for bargaining rights began a decade-long fight to end Communist rule in Eastern Europe.
Never mind that “TheNewDeal00” skips Reagan’s references to President Carter’s failed economic policies, staggering inflation, and the burdensome government regulations and high tax rates of the late-1970s. Those are inconvenient facts in this case.
But an important and overlooked bit of context by “TheNewDeal00” in this speech is Reagan’s reference to his friend, former American Federation of Labor-turned-AFL-CIO President George Meany, with whom Reagan worked as President of the Screen Actors Guild.
In 1955, President Meany said, “It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government.”
From a September 2011 op-ed in the New York Times, Heritage Foundation Senior Policy Analyst in Labor Economics James Sherk writes (emphasis mine):
The founders of the labor movement viewed unions as a vehicle to get workers more of the profits they help create. Government workers, however, don’t generate profits. They merely negotiate for more tax money. When government unions strike, they strike against taxpayers. F.D.R. considered this “unthinkable and intolerable.”
Government collective bargaining means voters do not have the final say on public policy. Instead their elected representatives must negotiate spending and policy decisions with unions. That is not exactly democratic – a fact that unions once recognized.
George Meany was not alone. Up through the 1950s, unions widely agreed that collective bargaining had no place in government. But starting with Wisconsin in 1959, states began to allow collective bargaining in government. The influx of dues and members quickly changed the union movement’s tune, and collective bargaining in government is now widespread. As a result unions can now insist on laws that serve their interests – at the expense of the common good.
Sherk concludes his op-ed with this advice from the AFL-CIO’s Executive Council in 1959 (again, emphasis mine):
“In terms of accepted collective bargaining procedures, government workers have no right beyond the authority to petition Congress — a right available to every citizen.”
President Obama and his allies on the Left love to use conservative icon Reagan to advance their cause, but they conveniently forget what progressive icon FDR thought about government unions.
From RealClearPolitics (again with the emphasis):
Roosevelt openly opposed bargaining rights for government unions.
“The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service,” Roosevelt wrote in 1937 to the National Federation of Federal Employees. Yes, public workers may demand fair treatment, wrote Roosevelt. But, he wrote, “I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place” in the public sector. “A strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government.”
And if you’re the kind of guy who capitalizes “government,” woe betide such obstructionists.
Roosevelt wasn’t alone. It was orthodoxy among Democrats through the ’50s that unions didn’t belong in government work. Things began changing when, in 1959, Wisconsin’s then-Gov. Gaylord Nelson signed collective bargaining into law for state workers. Other states followed, and gradually, municipal workers and teachers were unionized, too.
Even as that happened, the future was visible. Frank Zeidler, Milwaukee’s mayor in the 1950s and the last card-carrying Socialist to head a major U.S. city, supported labor. But in 1969, the progressive icon wrote that rise of unions in government work put a competing power in charge of public business next to elected officials. Government unions “can mean considerable loss of control over the budget, and hence over tax rates,” he warned.
While FDR was a staunch supporter of private sector unions (like Ronald Reagan, and indeed like this post’s author), he philosophically opposed government unions. Even Milwaukee mayor and card-carrying Socialist Frank Zeidler opposed government unions in his later years.
The Left loves to use Reagan in support of their causes, but there are so many Big Labor icons from which to choose — why doesn’t “TheNewDeal00” use the man for whom he dedicated his DailyKos avatar (FDR) or any number of labor leaders from the 1930s-1950s?
Wisconsin has long been a battleground for the Labor movement in the United States. It was the birthplace of collective bargaining for government unions in the 1950s, and — if Governor Walker is successful in next week’s recall election — it may well mark the beginning of the end for government unions.
Follow @matthewhurtt on Twitter.