In the olden days – say, around 2004 – Democrats might wander away from the public employee union herd, but they were quickly rounded up and placed back under the yoke. And while there are still a significant number of Democrats who wouldn’t dream of saying “boo” to a union officer, anyone who has followed politics for more than a few years has to be staring goggle-eyed at the spectacle of unions and machine Democrats at each other’s throats.
Our first stop is New Jersey. The long-running NJEA vs. Gov. Christie show continues to play to sellout crowds, but the latest plot twist involves a group of legislative Democrats, including the senate president and the assembly speaker. They have cobbled together a bill that would require public employees to contribute more to their own pensions and health care premiums. This prompted one union official to refer to Christie as Adolf Hitler and the two Democratic leaders as his Nazi generals.
“I am mad as hell about politicians who were elected by the people but sell their votes to the powerful,” said NJEA president Barbara Keshishian, apparently without a trace of irony.
So the unions ran attack ads and held rallies and got themselves arrested, to no good purpose yet. “You saw the unions today do their best to intimidate people,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney. “But guess what? We’re in charge. I didn’t come down here to be told what to do.”
The unions got a troop of Revolutionary War re-enacters to lead a march across the Delaware to the state capitol in what they called “The Second Battle of Trenton.” You could almost hear George Washington say, “A bridge! Why didn’t I think of that?”
It’s a sad commentary on the knowledge of American history that in its story about the protest, the Newark Star-Ledger felt compelled to explain to readers what happened at the first Battle of Trenton.
Let’s move on to Chicago, where Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the school board canceled the scheduled four percent raises for teachers and proposed a longer school day.
“Teachers got two types of pay raises. People in public life got labor peace. Can anybody explain to me what the children got? I know what everybody else got,” Emanuel said.
Asked what she thought of the longer school day, Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis was her typically understated self, declaring, “I don’t believe in slavery on any level.”
While the anger is boiling over in several locations, it’s still under a lid at the national level – though it does seem to be percolating.
“We have to hold this administration accountable, but we will get a choice between President Obama and our worst nightmare,” said Lily Eskelsen, vice president of an organization that brags about its one million Republican members.
This infighting will have little effect on elections and campaigns, though that seems to be what everyone is worried about. It may, however, lead to some bipartisan coalitions on policy, and that will not be a good thing for unions.