It has seemed apparent for some time that Ronald Reagan, the greatest icon of the conservative movement, would not be conservative enough for today’s Republican Party. Attempts by Republicans in several state legislatures across the country to eliminate collective bargaining rights of public employee unions has truly been explosive– the equivalent of the “nuclear option” in politics. Contrary to claims by Republicans such as Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, that these moves were made simply to help fight budget deficits, these attempts are nothing more than a power grab.
In Wisconsin, public employee unions had already agreed to cuts in pay and benefits amounting to 8 percent, doing more than their fair share in helping solve the budget crisis. However, for Walker and his party, that was not enough. He wanted to entirely prevent public employees from participating in negotiations regarding their pay, benefits, and work conditions. Demonstrating the blatant partisan nature of the move, Walker exempted some public employees from the collective bargaining ban, particularly those professions that tended to be Republican-leaning.
Princeton economist Paul Krugman points out, “you don’t have to love unions, you don’t have to believe that their policy positions are always right, to recognize that they’re among the few influential players in our political system representing the interests of middle- and working-class Americans, as opposed to the wealthy.”
Krugman also states,
In principle, every American citizen has an equal say in our political process. In practice, of course, some of us are more equal than others. Billionaires can field armies of lobbyists; they can finance think tanks that put the desired spin on policy issues; they can funnel cash to politicians with sympathetic views (as the Koch brothers did in the case of Mr. Walker). On paper, we’re a one-person-one-vote nation; in reality, we’re more than a bit of an oligarchy, in which a handful of wealthy people dominate.
Given this reality, it’s important to have institutions that can act as counterweights to the power of big money. And unions are among the most important of these institutions.
It is, instead, about power. What Mr. Walker and his backers [have done] is to make Wisconsin — and eventually, America — less of a functioning democracy and more of a third-world-style oligarchy. And that’s why anyone who believes that we need some counterweight to the political power of big money should be on the demonstrators’ side.
The video clip above, which shows Ronald Reagan referencing the struggles of workers in Poland who wanted to organize into unions, demonstrates that even the Great Conservative Icon, who fired thousands of members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization when their union violated the law, recognized the important role that unions play in a free society. It’s too bad we don’t have any more semi-moderate Republicans like Reagan in contemporary politics.