|Walter Reuther (1907-1970)|
The history of American unionization is pretty bloody--like the rest of world history. Walter "The Redhead" Reuther started growing Detroit's UAW beginning around 1934 until his death in 1970. For a readable account of him, see William Manchester's "The Glory And The Dream" beginning on p. 388. Men like Reuther were fighting for living standards and basic equity back then. They played offense and they mostly won.
Private sector unions like the UAW grew first and the public sector unions--always lagging in growth--followed. Decisions like Wisconsin's to allow public sector unions to collectively bargain led the way in 1959.
I'm old enough to be grounded by memories of the days when public sector workers were not the best paid workers on the block--we called them "State Workers" in Madison--but they gained steadily. Teachers, professors, clericals, even janitors.
When trade unionism in the private sector began to ebb, it exposed inequalities enjoyed by State employees. Here in California, state employees built a cozy relationship with the California State government which may have peaked but has not subsided. It's not really the fault of individual state employees that they enjoy benefits away and above others--it's a collective thing.
We saw a violent defensive play in Michigan today. Gone are the days of playing offense in a growing economy. The general public--if they get the facts--will not sympathize like they did in the 1930's. It's just the wrong time of the life cycle.