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FDR vs. Wisconsin Teachers

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The big issue in Wisconsin today is whether or not public sector workers should have collective bargaining rights. In an Aug. 16, 1937 letter to Luther Steward, the president of the National Federation of Public Employees, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had something to say about that:

[M]eticulous attention should be paid to the special relationships and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the Government.

All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters.

Roosevelt would have absolutely rejected the mass demonstrations aimed at blocking access or regress from the state’s legislative building, and at keeping children out of school:

Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of government employees. Upon employees in the Federal service rests the obligation to serve the whole people, whose interests and welfare require orderliness and continuity in the conduct of Government activities. This obligation is paramount. Since their own services have to do with the functioning of the Government, a strike of pubic employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable.

Yet now we have a president of the United States using his political organization, Organizing For America, to encourage militant tactics that would obstruct the operations of a SOVEREIGN state government, in order to keep collective bargaining of the sort that the great liberal icon and friend of unions, FDR, said has “distinct and insurmountable limitations.”

It appears as if FDR would say that President Obama is wrong on substance, and dangerously out of line with regard to tactics.

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About the Author
Quin Hillyer

Quin Hillyer

Quin Hillyer, a senior editorial writer for The Washington Times and a senior editor for the American Spectator magazine, has won awards for journalistic excellence at the local, state, regional and national levels. His work has been featured in more than 50 publications, including the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, the Houston Chronicle, the San Francisco Chronicle, Investor's Business ...

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