Free Market Fundamentalist Opinion

Government Workers of the World Unite!

While union density in the private sector is declining, government workers are increasingly unionized across the developed world.

The Economist reports that the past thirty years have been dismal for the labor movements of the world. In the United States, just 7 percent of the private-sector workforce belongs to a union today, down from a third in 1979. In Britain, the decline was similarly dramatic. Across the developed world, less than one in every five workers is still a union member.

There is one exception though — the public sector. While in 1979, just 11 percent of government workers belonged to a union, today that’s 36 percent. There are, in fact, more American workers in unions in the public sector (7.6 million) than there are in the private sector (7.1 million), even as the private sector employs five times as many people.

In the United Kingdom, more than half of all people on a government payroll belong to a trade union.

The shift has created tension between the public and private sectors, according to The Economist. Whereas the private sector is ruled by competition, the public sector remains “a haven of security and stability.”

Many people have jobs for life and performance measures are rare. The result is a paradox: the typical public worker is better off than the people he is supposed to serve and the gap has widened significantly over the past decade.

In the United States, pay and benefits have grown twice as fast in the public sector as they have in the private sector.

The result? A concentration of political leftism in the public sector with generous pension provisions and mounting bureaucracy. “Unions have also made it almost impossible to sack incompetent workers,” notes The Economist; a phenomenon that’s particularly endemic in public education.

With strong membership rates and sufficient political clout, public-sector unions, unlike their counterparts in the private sector, “are relentless in demanding more resources and more personnel, which conveniently translate into more members and more dues.”

Public sector unions combine support for higher spending with vigorous opposition to more accountability. Almost everywhere they have demonized competition, transparency and flexible pay.

And it’s the average taxpayer who’s left to foot the bill, of course.