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Labor loses a big one; Failure of Wisconsin recall effort shows the diminishing power of unions

The governor of Wisconsin Tuesday easily beat back an effort to recall him, defeating the union-led effort by a healthy margin of about 7 percent. The result points up the troubles facing both public employee unions and President Obama.

Scott Walker was elected governor in 2010 based on his promise to curb state spending. Part of that strategy called for eliminating many rights of union members, which touched off the recall effort. Its failure was another blow to organized labor.

A Wall Street Journal poll showed that those with a positive view of teachers unions dropped from 29 percent last year to 22 percent this year.

Among teachers themselves, the gap grew even wider. In 2011, 58 per cent of teachers took a positive view of unions, whereas this year only 43 percent had a positive view.

This increasingly negative opinion is one reason for the drastic drop in teacher union membership. Some 150,000 teachers have dropped out of unions in the past two years, and another 200,000 are expected to quit by 2014. Part of this decline is attributed to institutions that no longer automatically deduct union dues from teacher paychecks.
With medical benefits and pension obligations for teachers crushing school budgets, the public's reaction is understandable.

The failure of labor to carry the day in Wisconsin has to worry national Democrats. Republicans showed they could raise more money than the anti-Walker forces and demonstrated the ability to run the kind of effective get-out-the-vote effort that is usually the province of big labor.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney observed that teachers unions were "the clearest example of a group that has lost its way." Other public employee unions are not far behind teachers in losing the race for public opinion. While unions recognize the problem they have with the public, their efforts to date have failed badly to address the problem.

The country has been waiting anxiously to see what would happen in Wisconsin as an indication of what direction the nation was going.

Wisconsin's vote will encourage other efforts to diminish the power of unions – a step that has far-reaching consequences for both business and the unions.