The greatest goal of ancient alchemy was to turn lead into gold. As far as we know, none of those early scientists succeeded in performing this miraculous feat. But now, over 1000 years later, an ad hoc team of government bureaucrats, rapacious union leaders, and misguided rank and file members have just about accomplished the reverse: turning the Golden State into a leaden mass.
You’ve probably heard about our two current strikes, one against the major supermarket chains, and the other against the Los Angeles area transit authority. In both cases, the key issue is health care, and who should pay for it. More on that in a moment, but let’s first take a look at strikes and some underlying issues.
For any strike to be effective, there must be a great deal of sympathy to the cause, held by those outside the particular union involved. Decades ago, when a large number of American workers were unionized, and strikes generally produced results very close to the wish list of the union, there was present a feeling of brotherhood amongst those in the labor movement. Just as important though, was the tendency for corporate management to cave-in, based on a “pass along” mentality, whereby any increased costs would be willingly and always absorbed by the hapless consumer.
This would all change as the baby boomers became the prime consumers, in an era where shortages were common, and staggering inflation made the 1950’s look quite wonderful in comparison. Suddenly, the unions could not prevent layoffs, and a great many non-union enterprises were springing up all over the country. Foreign competition entered the marketplace in a big way, and die-hard unionized auto workers noted the inconsistency—at least privately—of bad-mouthing the Japanese while at the same time NOT looking for the union label in their own clothing purchases. Occurring at the same time was the transformation of Joe Sixpack into anything but a reliable Democrat voter, as the Evil party drifted farther and farther to the Left.
Which brings us to today’s state of the unions. With membership rolls way down in the manufacturing industries, what’s left is an odd combination of truckers, public employees, and “food and commercial workers,” such as our grocery employees. The Teamsters have not had a big action in quite a while, and most folks have little empathy for striking public employees. That’s why the grocery action is being watched so closely by all the union leadership. They’re hoping, you see, for a big induced guilt factor to rear its head.
Will shoppers cross picket lines manned by workers they might know personally, dealing with them a few times per week? During the first week, many shoppers preferred to go to unaffected stores, that were extremely crowded. But I don’t see this continuing for too much longer.
Once the “Spring break” atmosphere fades away, with workers missing paychecks, and shoppers getting tired of being inconvenienced, the trickle across the lines will turn into a flood. There have already been quotes in local newspapers expressing surprise at the high pay and generous benefits earned by these relatively unskilled workers. Moreover, replacement workers have been hired, and if it were me on strike, I would be getting real nervous seeing 18-year-old kids, being trained for less than a day, replacing me with few problems.
As to the health care matter, this is now the albatross around the neck of the entire free world. In all countries except the US, it is universally paid for by the government. While the quality of nationalized health care leaves much to be desired, the patients mostly like it since it is “free,” about as much as the providers hate it, since their incomes and modes of treatment are both severely limited. In Canada, to the extent the system works at all, it is because the desperate patient can always go south of the border, rather than wait a year for his diagnostic procedure or non-emergency treatment. In Europe, especially the UK, you won’t see an executive recruitment advertisement without the words “paid private health plan.”
In our country, what started out as catastrophic insurance for major medical expenses morphed into essentially all expenses paid coverage, with a small deductible. It’s this deductible or co-pay that the unions are fighting now. Never mind that the care dished out by many of these plans is hardly first rate—but that’s fodder for another essay.
As our population grows older and sicker, the continuing health care funding crisis will become the 500-pound gorilla of all government policy, and neither the Evil party nor the Stupid party will have the guts to do anything about it.