In the wild, a wounded animal is the most dangerous kind. Right now, the labor movement in the United States is such an animal, reeling from a string of devastating injuries that have eroded its ability to raise money, organize and influence elections. Consider, just this past year:
- In Wisconsin, the birthplace of American public-sector unionism, Gov. Scott Walker successfully pushed through reform legislation essentially stripping public unions of their collective-bargaining power. The Wisconsin state government will no longer collect dues for the unions and will require them to recertify every year.
- In Ohio, Gov. John Kasich championed - and won - even more stringent reforms, banning collective bargaining even for some benefits, prohibiting public workers from striking and ending automatic pay raises.
- Lest you think only Republican politicians are forced to take such measures, behold Chicago mayor and eminent old-school liberal Rahm Emanuel, who has battled with Chicago's public-employee unions over work-rule changes the mayor needs to close the city's $635.7 million budget gap. He has threatened to lay off more than 600 workers if unions will not give.
Mr. Emanuel, Mr. Kasich and Mr. Walker are not alone. All across the country, on the state and municipal level, executives of both parties realize that decades of union-negotiated contracts have pushed their governments to the brink of bankruptcy. To these politicians, stripping or at least curbing the power of unions is no longer a matter of choice - the fiscal survival of entire communities is at stake.
But unions are not going gently into that good night. Rightly perceiving their very existence to be at stake, Big Labor and its bloated bureaucracies and bosses have reacted with rage. In a Labor Day speech in Detroit, Teamsters chieftain James P. Hoffa vented his fury:
"Wehavetokeepaneyeonthebattleweface-awaronworkers. AndyouseeiteverywherethereistheTeaParty. Andyouknowthereisonlyonewaytobeatandwinthatwar. ... The one thing about working people is we like a good fight. And you know what, they've got a war, they've got a war with us and there is only going to be one winner. It is going to be the workers ... we are going to win that war. ... President Obama, this is your army. We are ready to march ... let's take these sons of bitches out and give America back to an America where we belong."
Now, normally I am inclined to give public speakers wide latitude when using metaphorical language. However, given the deep historical ties between labor and organized crime, the tone and substance of Mr. Hoffa's speech could be fairly read as a not-so-veiled threat of violence and civil unrest. (Mr. Hoffa's labor-leader father is widely believed to have been assassinated - "taken out," if you will - by his own union's mobster cronies near Detroit in 1975.)
In fact, when I heard Mr. Hoffa's ravings, it brought mind the last words of Leon Czolgosz, who assassinated President William McKinley on Sept. 6, 1901 - 110 years nearly to the day of Mr. Hoffa's speech. Czolgosz never repented his murder of McKinley and is said to have uttered as his last words, "I killed the president because he was the enemy of the good people - the good working people."
An enemy of the working people. Clearly, Mr. Hoffa believes that anyone who opposes unions' right to suck cities, states and companies dry until little is left save a bankrupt husk is an enemy of the working people. Mr. Hoffa's message is clear: Unions will fight, metaphorically at first, then physically, if they must.
We've been warned.
Matt Patterson is senior editor at the Capital Research Center and a contributor to "Proud to be Right: Voices of the Next Conservative Generation" (HarperCollins, 2010).
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