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Morning Jay: Why Wisconsin Matters

6:00 AM, Jun 5, 2012 • By JAY COST
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Conservatives should look at Wisconsin as the first in a series of steps along a path of responsible labor reforms. The model should be the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, one of the most consequential pieces of legislation in the 20th century. After World War II, organized labor acted quite irresponsibly, threatening mass strikes as the economy was going through the difficult transition from wartime to peacetime. As was so often the case with our 33rd president, Harry Truman talked a good game about making the unions behave, but he never actually followed through, and the country elected a Republican majority in the 1946 midterms. Though they would not be in power for long, the conservatives who dominated the 80th Congress passed over Truman's veto the Taft-Hartley Act, which provided states with the power to institute right-to-work laws, and greatly curtailed the ability of unions to disrupt the national economy.

Government unions are acting in a similarly irresponsible manner today. The massive public financing crisis in the states demands the very sorts of reforms that Governor Walker has implemented; yet he has been opposed by the government unions and their allies in the Democratic party at every turn. The only appropriate solution is something akin to what the GOP pushed through in the 1940s; in effect conservatives must say to the unions that if they cannot behave responsibly with the powers they have, then those powers will be curbed.

In many respects, labor unions are an artifact of an age long gone, and they remain in existence today due in part to the political needs of the Democratic party. Republicans are thus bound to have a tense relationship with them, but the GOP is obliged to step in – as Governor Walker has – when the unions are behaving in a way that runs contrary to the public interest. Here’s hoping that Walker is vindicated today, and that Republican leaders around the country have the courage to follow his lead.

Jay Cost is a staff writer for THE WEEKLY STANDARD and the author of Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble Democratic Party and Now Threatens the American Republic, available now wherever books are sold.

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