What Do Union Members Want for Their Children and Grandchildren?

If someone were to ask a rank and file member of a teachers’ union or a transit drivers’ union what they want for their children, what would the typical answer be? It would not be a far stretch to believe they would say something along the lines of, "I would like them to get a good education and have a nice career with opportunities for advancement, to go as far as their abilities and drive will take them, to live and raise their kids in a safe neighborhood with good schools, parks, and recreational facilities." One would hope that all parents, except perhaps a handful constrained by religious beliefs, would want a more prosperous and rewarding life for their children.

How many would want their children to be more successful than themselves? Odds are most would. And being more successful would mean becoming economically and financially better off. Do union members want their children to become professors, doctors, great writers, chemists, engineers? For those who have children who have become well paid engineers or doctors are they proud of those children? Are they proud of children with MBAs who have important positions with major companies? When the children work for banks or brokerage firms are the members happy about the nice homes and luxury cars the children are able to afford? Or do they view them as traitors to their upbringing?

In short, do union members think they are breaking faith with the labor movement if they want a much better life for their kids?

The irony is that in order for there to be an economy strong enough to offer a vast array of great opportunities for everyone’s children, it has to be a free economy with few constraints on its ability to allocate resources efficiently and reward entrepreneurs and risk taking investors. Otherwise, the economy grinds its way into permanent stagnation or worse.

Thus, for labor union members who want a better world for their children and grandchildren, their continuing virulent attacks on free enterprise, profits, and freedom of workers to join or not join a union are exactly the wrong message and policy stance. Instead, they are insidious poisons that threaten the ongoing ability of the economy to offer a better world for their children-or anyone else’s. One need only look at Greece, Italy, Spain, and France to see where the animus toward the free economy leads. Economies are organic creatures that, like the goose laying the golden eggs, cannot be strangled and abused if they are to keep producing. The biggest error in the thinking of unions is that the economy will keep going at a high rate of speed no matter what regulations, tax burdens and price distortions are forced upon it.

It is hard to imagine the mixed emotions of died-in-the-wool labor stalwarts when they see their offspring thriving as well paid corporate executives or engineers in the free enterprise, profit driven economy they so despise. But that was always their conundrum. Unions have always been a one generation at a time oriented institution. If it were not for public sector unions and their incestuous relationship with elected officials, total union membership would now be 5 percent or less of the total work force despite the overwhelmingly legal advantages they enjoy. Why? Because they are not focused on building something other than ways to extract as many current member benefits as they can; nor do they care about the longer term future. Watching transit drivers hold the public hostage by threatening to strike or teachers walking out and leaving children in the lurch should be evidence enough of the single mindedness of unions. To recall that unions went on strike at war materiel plants during World War II while their fellow countrymen were being killed or wounded to protect them is profound in its implications about the union sense of entitlement and privilege.

And yet as parents union members almost certainly have parental aspirations for their children’s futures. How do they live with the mental gymnastics required to be good foot soldiers for the cause which, in its full flower, destroys the hopes they have for their children’s and grandchildren’s future? The only way they can is to deny that their demands on their employer are harmful; indeed they will argue that it is helpful to their employers and the economy despite all the pain filled historical evidence to the contrary.