Saturday, February 19, 2011

FDR and Comrade Mayor Zeidler on Government Unions

Frank and I and the rest of us in the party really did address each other as Comrade. He was no fool of a Comrade though. Below clipped from Patrick McIlheran's, FDR's Ghost Is Smiling on Wisconsin's Governor
But only for the private sector. Roosevelt openly opposed bargaining rights for government unions.

"The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service," Roosevelt wrote in 1937 to the National Federation of Federal Employees. Yes, public workers may demand fair treatment, wrote Roosevelt. But, he wrote, "I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place" in the public sector. "A strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government."

And if you're the kind of guy who capitalizes "government," woe betide such obstructionists.

Roosevelt wasn't alone. It was orthodoxy among Democrats through the '50s that unions didn't belong in government work. Things began changing when, in 1959, Wisconsin's then-Gov. Gaylord Nelson signed collective bargaining into law for state workers. Other states followed, and gradually, municipal workers and teachers were unionized, too.

Even as that happened, the future was visible. Frank Zeidler, Milwaukee's mayor in the 1950s and the last card-carrying Socialist to head a major U.S. city, supported labor. But in 1969, the progressive icon wrote that rise of unions in government work put a competing power in charge of public business next to elected officials. Government unions "can mean considerable loss of control over the budget, and hence over tax rates," he warned.


Jay Reedy said...

Didn't know they actually (if with tongue in cheek) addressed each other as "Comrade." Can you imagine that in Walker's Wisconsin? Now instead of public-minded, public-benefitting Socialists in Milwaukee we have a state gov't dominated by anti-social Republicans and Libertarians who believe that corporate "greed is good" and the majority of the public be damned. Sometimes history unfolds so sadly.

Bill Baar said...

I just finished Jack Ross's History of the Socialist Party in America and he mentions a Business minded, Good Government, Civic group as the ones who recruited Frank for the 1948 campaign. If you're interested in Socialist History Ross's book is very good.