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Travis Rowley:Solid-Error-ty

Saturday, September 17, 2011


Within a glowing Providence Journal article focusing on organized labor, secretary-treasurer of the RI Building and Construction Trades Council Scott Duhamel lamented any disharmony between public and private unions, saying that “when they unite and figure out what’s going on, they always prevail.”

It would be interesting to know if there are any Central Falls retirees out there who are still falling for Duhamel’s timeless call for “solidarity” amongst all union classes.

Without a doubt, cohesion among people who are devoted to the same goals is crucial to achieving those common objectives. When confronted by an opponent, even if discord exists among the pack, a unified front is crucial to the larger cause.

Nobody understands this better than labor leaders. The herding of union members into organized political machines has worked wonders for augmenting the political power of organized labor. As NEA president Larry Purtill said earlier this year, “Here in Rhode Island we have Working RI and the AFL-CIO. We’re gonna work together. The public sector is gonna support the private sector, for good jobs and good benefits because that’s what’s gonna make this economy go. And the private sector is gonna turn around and support the public sector. We are all in this together.”

But is there really a universal purpose that fuses all of organized labor? Do all unions – public and private – truly aim for the same objectives? Or are there inherent competing interests between them?

Public vs. Private Unions

With union sentiments driving public policy for decades here in Rhode Island, the state’s unemployment rate now stands at 10.8 percent. But the “unemployment rate across the building trades is running between 25 and 40 percent.” According to Duhamel, this is “unheard of” in the summer, when it’s typically between 5 and 10 percent.

Why is one of the most politically favored groups in Rhode Island suffering like this?

The fact of the matter is that public and private unions are not unqualified allies. The most recent evidence for this assertion lies with the horrid rankings that Rhode Island’s business climate has received from the likes of Forbes and CNBC. Is anyone under the delusion that these rankings are not largely due to the public unions’ influence over General Assembly Democrats, who, in order to satisfy the desires of public labor, have continuously suppressed the private sector with high tax rates and costly directives levied down to the cities and towns?

As public labor leaders brace themselves to resist pension reform that would prevent the further erosion of the Rhode Island economy, is there anyone who believes that this resistance will improve the condition of the average private laborer?

Union Leaders’ Philosophical Foundation

Republicans never receive the credit, but they have always stood up for “workers” by advocating for the unleashing of the free market – decreasing taxes and regulations in order to release the entrepreneurial spirit and create a business-friendly environment. In addition to an increase in jobs, there would also be an increase in “greedy CEOs,” who would be forced to compete for members of the Rhode Island workforce. Higher wages and better benefits end up accompanying a stronger and more concrete economy.

Conversely, we find many union bosses armed with only contempt for capitalism and individualism. Guided by a collectivist philosophy, they promote hatred for the rich and industrious, the advancement of the group rather than the individual, and a compulsion to “spread the wealth around.”
Union socialists will tax the rich (read: job creators) until there are no rich people left.

Private unions, while perhaps less disturbing than their public counterparts, have always done their best to artificially bolster their own wages and benefits. But we also know that union bosses also use the government to fulfill their Utopian vision. As SEIU president Andy Stern once said, “There are opportunities in America to share better in the wealth, to rebalance the power. And unions and government are part of the solution.” In the eyes of many labor leaders, whether acting in the private or public realm, their mission is a moral one – to righteously redistribute wealth to the “working class.” From this perspective, labor leaders believe public and private union members should be unified against their common enemy – “CEOs” and “corporate greed.”

The Truth Behind Solidarity

It is ideology that binds private and public workers together, not direct interests or economic realities. And when the collectivists in charge of the labor movement eventually collapse the economic institutions that were sustaining both groups, it becomes more and more difficult for them to uphold the alliance.

But they’ll certainly try.

At a “solidarity rally” last February, the NEA’s Larry Purtill informed hundreds of union members that there are “some Republican governors and legislatures around the country that want to divide the unions between the private and public sector. Well the answer is, you’re not gonna divide us! You can’t divide us!”

The sinister intent of Purtill’s cry for solidarity becomes clear when placed against the backdrop of other comments regarding organized labor. Very recently, Teamster president Jimmy Hoffa told President Obama that a large crowd of union members was his “army” going in to the 2012 elections. And, in 2008, it was explained at a Netroots Nation conference by a progressive panelist, “More union members means a better progressive movement. You can’t have a successful progressive movement without a workers movement. It’s never been done in the history of progressive politics.”

It’s time for union members to drop their self-defeating loyalty to labor bosses who have clearly betrayed them, have been using them to advance far-ranging progressive interests, and co-opting them in order to simply amass the largest progressive “army” possible.

Travis Rowley (TravisRowley.com) is the chairman of the RI Young Republicans and a consultant for the Barry Hinckley Campaign for US Senate.


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