Any ideology with scores of millions of willing adherents cannot be completely without merit. For any movement numbering millions of people to flourish, at some level, their underlying ideology must resonate with mostly good people as well as with the inevitable corrupt contingent. Unions, and their ideologies, are examples of good ideas – as well as whatever bad one might ascribe to the influence of unions. And any discussion of unions in America today must assess the ideological schisms between public sector and private sector unions.
Unions for private sector companies grow when the company itself grows. If the company is not healthy, they are not healthy. When companies declare bankruptcy in the private sector, the unions and the jobs go away along with the company. Unions in the private sector envision jobs that build wealth – freeways, levees, aquaducts, new underground telecom/utility conduit upgrades in urban areas, the list is endless and inspiring. They envision jobs in capital intensive, heavy industries, construction, manufacturing, they want Americans to buy American made goods and enjoy a better and better standard of living. Private sector unions are somewhat more likely to recognize that their imperative – more union jobs – is better furthered through building infrastructure and durable manufactured goods, better furthered through competition between private companies in the free market, better furthered with less government. But the conditions that favor more jobs in the private sector conflict with the incentives that create more jobs in the public sector.
Unions represent many public sector organizations that provide absolutely essential services that are best left to government – public safety and military operations in particular. Unions in the public sector, however, also represent organizations whose numbers increase when social problems increase. Hence counter-productive redistributionist efforts by government intended to reduce, for example, poverty and inequality, because they increase the number of government worker jobs – create an incentive for these efforts to be supported by unions representing government workers – especially if these well-intentioned programs are making the problem worse. One of the most crucial battles within the public sector unions will be between those who want to see problems solved through economic growth, not redistribution, supporting a smaller government that retains the best, brightest, most capable and crucial, highly compensated employees within smaller organizations. They oppose those within public sector unions who prefer to see government power increase regardless of the economic or social cost.
One way to characterize the contrast between public sector unions and private sector unions is to say the public sector unions are internationalist and the private sector unions are nationalist. In-turn, this would suggest many well-intentioned members of public sector unions view Amerca’s national interests as always suspect to charges of being inherently ill-gotten if not criminal, because Americans consume more resources than their proportion of global population might be entitled to on a per-capita basis. These conscientious internationalists conclude America’s wealth must be redistributed to the less fortunate throughout the world. This is altruism run amok, but altruistic nonetheless.
Private sector unions, potentially, have a better understanding of the fact that it is financial sustainability, not resource sustainability, that is at issue with alleged American over-consumption. Put another way, sustainable financial growth is the result of honest hard work and innovation, which can combine in a society for centuries creating economic opportunities and wealth-producing assets, and therefore conveys to the peoples of these societies the right to a proportionately higher standard of living. According to this argument, Americans have earned the right to have a better standard of living than those of other nations. This more nationalistic position held by many private sector unions is another key reason job-creating incentives differ between public sector and private sector unions.
Private sector unions are more likely to oppose efforts to increase immigration – something that is especially harmful when fewer highly-skilled immigrants are allowed into America to work - they are wary of open borders and free trade, opposing NAFTA, for example. Nonetheless, to the extent private sector unions are nationalistic rather than internationalist furthers America’s priorities as a people; to internationalize America and redistribute her wealth to the world would require very big government and millions of new government jobs, but this new regime would diminish if not destroy the quintessential American dream, and the jobs that come every time that dream is realized again by another original American entrepreneur. The truth and reality of this uniquely American dream is the source of America’s economic vitality.
Another way unions in the public sector vs. unions in the private sector contrast regards environmentalism. In the public sector, far more revenue can be collected from the private sector by creating elaborate permit requirements and a civil/criminal legal environment of Byzantine complexity and stupefying expense, than by participating in any actual building. Private sector unions, on the other hand, benefit when something real is built, a bridge, a freeway, an aqueduct, a pipeline, a power plant.
There is a vision of environmentalism that ought to be quite popular with private sector unions, a clean development environmentalism that stands athwart the mainstream environmentalist complex (one that incorporates the entire American oligarchy – big government, big finance, big corporations, and public sector labor) and shouts “Stop the Rationing, Cut the Green Red Tape, Rebuild the Nation.”
There is a natural partnership between clean development environmentalists, and private sector unions, supporting job creating, common sense reforms – no bullet train or light rail until roads and freeways are upgraded and unclogged, no more zoning that favors building high-density clusters of McMansions that destroy semi-rural suburbs within the arbitrary “urban service boundary,” no more water rationing instead of a free water market, no more energy rationing instead of a free energy market, and especially, no CO2 regulations, which have more to do with global governance than climate management. These regressive policies further the goals of the internationalist public sector, as well as the oligarchical recipients of corporate welfare, but they do little for the private American worker, and they stunt American economic growth.
One metaphor to describe America might be said to be as a company – with assets of land and infrastructure and intellectual capital. If America can continue to create abundant wealth, America’s ability to address questions of poverty will increase at the same time as the rate of poverty decreases. Americans may owe trillions upon trillions, but America’s currency will never collapse, or hyper-inflate because America is not just a collection of financial transactions – America is a company, an economic entity of staggering wealth, a merit-based culture with a libertarian, entrepreneurial heart. How unions in the public and private sector recognize and address the consequences of their respective priorities – internationalist vs. nationalist, environmentalist vs. cleantech development, and authoritarian vs. entrepreneurial – given the fact they currently control (from within and without) a significant percentage of America’s city, county and state governments – is arguably the prevailing political question in America today.