In the Washington Post today, tendentious moralist Michael Gerson opines that labor unions are driving a wedge into the Democratic Party. He bases this on the Wisconsin recall election, where Governor Walker trounced Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. He argues that this was all about public sector unions getting too much money into their pension funds and wages, which in a recessionary period conflicts with various progressive spending agendas. He points to local Dem mayors such as Reed in San Jose, CA, who have pushed for reductions in pensions for local public workers against union wishes and won strongly in referenda supporting their efforts, to excoriate Barrett and call for dismantling collective bargaining for public sector unions.
Now, whatever one thinks of public sector unions, Gerson's account is seriously misleading and lacking in facts on several fronts. First is that while Barrett certainly became associated with the position of the public sector unions in the final race, as mayor he had done exactly as Reed in San Jose and had angered the public sector unions in Milwaukee for doing so. They had supported his main rival in the primary, Kathleen Falk of liberal Dane County over him, with this intra-party fight being pointed to by many as one of the reasons for Barrett's loss, along with the blunder of holding the recall election in the summer after students had all gone home, who are more inclined to support the Dems than the GOP. This is on top of Gerson's conveniently ignoring that many of those voting for Walker apparently did so out of simply disapproving of holding the recall election at all.
The other issue is that he completely ignores the fact that the public sector unions in Wisconsin had completely agreed to virtually all of Walker's financial demands regarding pay and pensions and so on. This was not about the deficit or other financial matters. It was all about public sector union-busting, which in fact Gerson does support. But part of what got so many people angry was that Walker never said anything about this when he was running. He certainly spoke about limiting public worker pensions and so on, but never whispered a hint about his plan to severely limit collective bargaining.
What is curious is that on the same page, the generally obnoxious Charles Krauthammer got most of this right, although Krauthammer was probably even more gloating and mocking than Gerson regarding the impact of all this on the union movement, which does look pretty severe.