In a recent column, Ian Donnis mentions the report I put together for the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity concerning the political spending and ideological activism of Rhode Island’s public-sector labor unions. Donnis’s blurb on the report raises a consideration in defense of the unions that misses a central point:
… politics is a participatory sport, and it’s not the labor movement’s fault if other interest groups don’t pursue a comparable level of political activity. As in Massachusetts, Republicans have shown an ability to capture the governor’s office in Rhode Island, holding it through two terms apiece for Lincoln Almond and Don Carcieri, from 1995 to 2011. In the General Assembly, such Republicans as past and present House Minority Leaders Brian Newberry and Blake Filippi have played a prominent role in leading the opposition and raising policy concerns. Yet fostering a more competitive two-party system requires a range of approaches sustained over time – including good candidates, financial support, and an appealing message – beyond just pointing to the relative strength of labor.
This shouldn’t be seen as an excuse for unions’ spending, but as evidence of the structural problem. Those who defend it rely on a fallacy that there are counter-balanced forces who should be expected to uphold their positions just because that’s their role. The labor unions collect money and gain influence by tapping into the tax till. They push legislation (not only labor-related, but also regulatory and electoral) that makes it near impossible to oppose them.
Plainly put, there is no opposing constituency of sufficient size and power for whom it makes sense to do the work necessary to fight back. It’s easier just to leave or to buy into the corruption.
In Donnis’s terms, it is the labor movement’s fault that other interest groups don’t muster a comparable level of political activity, because it isn’t really a question of “don’t”; it’s “can’t.” There isn’t the direct line of funding from taxpayers. There isn’t the network of patronage jobs that allow conservatives to build six-figure careers bouncing between politics, unions, and activist organizations. There isn’t a benefit to being in office that makes the fight and constant personal harassment worthwhile or that creates incentive for partisan unity.
One might just as easily say that it isn’t the abusers fault his girlfriend never fights back.