Last month I opined on the state of public knowledge about labor unions and collective bargaining. I wrote that since a large segment of the population had no real idea what all the hubbub was about, both sides were ”trying to gain the support of this bloc through selective information – or propaganda, to be less charitable.” Now the first reports are in from Wisconsin, and it appears the unions are advancing along that front.
I’m not using “propaganda” in its pejorative sense. Both Gov. Walker and the unions are trying to frame the issue to display the most advantageous picture for their side. So far, more Wisconsinites are admiring the union picture.
Wisconsin voters revealed basic misunderstandings on numerous issues, including how much government union members and taxpayers have been contributing to union pensions, what the fiscal situation in Wisconsin is, how collective bargaining is, or isn’t, done elsewhere, and how dues are collected and used. Building an understanding of these fundamental policy issues is key to building support for reform.
All of this may be true, but it’s all beside the point. The side that has to explain always loses the propaganda battle. The union message is, “They’re taking away our rights!” and no amount of education about the policies and practices of collective bargaining is going to trump it. I remember California voucher supporters in 1993 trying to explain why witches wouldn’t be able to open voucher schools.
This is a serious disadvantage for Walker and the Wisconsin GOP, but it doesn’t have to be disastrous. The unions’ main problem is they think it’s still the Sixties. Rallies and protests are great for the activists, but they have diminishing returns with the masses. Eventually they notice the world hasn’t ended and they move on to other things. Remember the Million Man March? Or the Promise Keepers? No one does.
All this aside, the decisive battles are still legislative (advantage: GOP), judicial (advantage: unions); and implementation, should it get that far (advantage: unions). Prepare for a long war.