What's really up in Wisconsin

The tables seems to be turning against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker: his popularity has plummeted as he has waged his war against collective bargaining for state employees.

But public sector unions aren't anyone's idea of a damsel in distress here: people continue to see these unions and their members as bastions of privilege in a shifting labor landscape.

But it's that shift that is helping to fuel the anti-union anger. In New York State, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is seeking wage and pension give backs from unions -- the same concessions Wisconsin's workers have already agreed.

The stark fact is this: according to The New York Times, the average state worker in New York earns $62,382 -- but the average New Yorker employed privately? He or she makes only $46,957.

Those numbers raise your blood temperature, don't they? How can it be okay for public workers to make so much more than the taxpayers who fund them? Horrible. Terrible.

But wait: let's turn the question around. Why is it that a private employee now makes so much less than the run-of-the-mill state bureaucrat?

Too few people seem to be asking that question -- because the answer includes the deep decline in union households among American working families.

According to Tim Rutten in The Los Angeles Times, in 1945, about 36 percent of all non-farm workers were unionized. As of last year, that number has fallen to a paltry seven percent.

But in the public sector, unionization remained at 36 percent -- and those employees have seen smaller drops in their living standards.

Why blame the unionized for that? Yes, public union members need to sacrifice to save their state economies -- but many are doing just that, the way the auto workers accepted cutbacks to save U.S. car companies, the way pilots and flight attendants and mechanics have given back to prop up the airline industry.

That is not what Wisconsin is about. The give-backs are a given.

Gov. Walker seems instead to be playing on the politics of resentment. His directing the anger of a struggling middle class not at the private industries squeezing them in the name of global competitiveness, but at the last group of workers who still have some of the perks from a bygone era of fairer wages and benefits.

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