Unions across Europe have promised strikes in 2011 on a scale not seen since the 1980s.This week, The Economist has an issue devoted to the subject of the (worldwide) need to confront public-sector unions (thereby unwittingly giving ammunition to those, in America and elsewhere, who support the rise of the tea party).
Articles in this week's issue related to the main subject include:
• The battle ahead
• (Government) workers of the world unite!
• What Barack Obama can and can’t learn from Reagan’s blithe spirit
• Improving teachers (At last, America may change the way it trains, recruits and rewards teachers)
• The tussle for talent (The best companies are obsessed by “the vital few”)
• Chris Christie: The conservative crush
The London Weekly's main article is entitled (Government) workers of the world unite! (Public-sector unions have had a good few decades. Has their luck run out?) From the Leader (The battle ahead):
People in the private sector are only just beginning to understand how much of a banquet public-sector unions have been having at everybody else’s expense … And in public services union power is magnified not just by strikers’ ability to shut down monopolies that everyone needs without seeing their employer go bust, but also by their political clout over those employers.Excerpts from The Economist's "briefing [which] will look at what the future holds for them. But first it will try to answer two questions: how did public-sector unions become so powerful? And what impact has their power had on the way the public sector works?":
This private-public shift has transformed the trade union movement. In the 1950s unions were solidly working class, dominated by men who had left school at 16 and leant left on economics but right on social issues. Today they are much more middle-class: more than a quarter of American unionists have college degrees, and even more have liberal views on social and environmental issues. The shift has also created tension between the public and private sectors.From Improving teachers (Lessons Learned: At last, America may change the way it trains, recruits and rewards teachers):
…Private-sector bosses are accustomed to playing hardball with unions because they know they can go bankrupt if they don’t. Politicians have no such discipline: they can always raise taxes or borrow from future generations. Those who have challenged the unions have often regretted it.
…In California, as Mr DiSalvo points out, the prison guards’ union has been one of the leading advocates of getting tough on crime. The result of this policy has been a dramatic increase in both the size of the state’s prison-industrial complex (from 12 prisons in 1980 to 33 in 2000) and the pay of the people who run it (prison guards in 2006 made $70,000 a year in base salary and $100,000 with overtime). But public-sector unions can prosper simply by opposing rationalisation: Buffalo, in New York state, has as many public workers in 2006 as it did in 1950, despite the fact that the city has lost half its population.
Public-sector unions combine support for higher spending with vigorous opposition to more accountability. Almost everywhere they have demonised competition, transparency and flexible pay. Teachers’ unions have often acted as the Praetorian Guard in this fight. … In America they have fought relentlessly against charter schools (which escape union rules about pay and promotion) and scholarship schemes (which give choice to parents). The teachers’ unions have an impressive record of terminating reformers [e.g., Greece's Marietta Giannakou and DC's Michelle Rhee].
…It is impossible to calculate the cost of the unions’ inflexibility. But several recent studies provide some indications. … Eric Hanushek, an economist at Stanford University, argues that replacing the bottom 5-8% of American teachers with merely average performers could move the United States from near the bottom to near the top of the international maths and science rankings.
The rigidity of the public sector does not merely reduce the quality of services.
…Public-sector unions now face the biggest challenge in their history.
…Even people on the left are beginning to echo these complaints.
…The unions have responded by proclaiming war on cost-cutting governments. … Unions across Europe have promised strikes in 2011 on a scale not seen since the 1980s.Public-sector unions will find it hard to win these battles. … They are also discovering that many people in the private sector regard their public-sector colleagues as an overprivileged elite.
…The pressure to rationalise the public sector is likely to continue in coming years.
…It would be a mistake to write off the public-sector unions. They are masters of diverting attention from strategic to tactical questions. Undoubtedly the unions will lose some of their privileges over the coming years; the scale of the debt crisis makes this inevitable. But will governments have the courage to tackle the root causes of the problem (such as pensions) rather than dealing with secondary problems (such as wages)? And will they dare to tackle questions of power rather than just pay and perks?
…politicians might be expected to do all in their power to ensure that America’s teachers are good ones. For decades, they have done the opposite.More on The Economist…