The protesting public school teachers with fake doctor's notes swarming the Capitol building in Madison, Wis., insist that Gov. Scott Walker is hell-bent on "union busting" in their state. Walker denies that his effort to reform public sector unions in Wisconsin is anything more than an honest attempt at balancing the state's books.
I hope the protesters are right. Public unions have been a 50-year mistake.
A crucial distinction has been lost in the debate over Walker's proposals: Government unions are not the same thing as private sector unions.
Traditional, private sector unions were born out of an often bloody adversarial relationship between labor and management. It's been said that during World War I, U.S. soldiers had better odds of surviving on the front lines than miners did in West Virginia coal mines. Mine disasters were frequent; hazardous conditions were the norm. In 1907, the Monongah mine explosion claimed the lives of 362 West Virginia miners. Day-to-day life often resembled serfdom, with management controlling vast swaths of the miners' lives. And before unionization and many New Deal-era reforms, Washington had little power to reform conditions by legislation.