I was recently asked "what's the difference between the tea party and the unions?" I believed he was joking with me, but he believed there was no difference.
The one and only similarity that comes to mind is that members of both groups are your neighbors, your friends, your relatives or yourself. But the similarities end there. The key difference is the use of force or coercion in membership and activism. This is especially evident in a closed shop, where unions enjoin employers in collective bargaining.
The tea party and conservatives have nothing fundamentally against the concept of collective bargaining between free associations of employees and their employers. People can enter into any associations freely. The issues arise from the coercive aspects, which is especially true in public unions—imposing a legal structure that makes it mandatory to be part of a union to be able work, where they go to the government and make laws that enforce a closed shop where an individual cannot work unless they are members of the union. In "right to work" conditions, the relationship between the union and the employers will still have market disciple. The employer has the option to say "no I cannot afford your demands," and can go to the marketplace and find workers who will work for less or without "unreasonable draconian demands."
Coercion of Members in Employment
Unions have a central committee that charges huge mandatory membership dues for the funding of the union. Dues which you, as a union member, are compelled to pay, which are then disbursed to fund things you may or may not support, using those dues for their own agenda (here and here), Conversely, the Tea Party has no central organization, and no real source of funding other than completely voluntary donations. But the differences run far deeper than that! The way they are treated by the media, the reality vs the myth, the essentially unfounded virulent statements made about the tea party by politicians (Rep Doyle, and Maxine Waters, as a sample) and others all show a dramatic double standard.
The tea party by contrast is a true free association. They are not linked by occupation, ethnicity, race or background. They are neither coerced nor enabled. No one provides buses to routinely bring them to events. The Tea Party essentially started as a response to a burst of frustration from Rick Santelli on CNBC over the mortgages and toxic derivatives, though its roots may precede him. It was a frustration that resonated with many people who felt that our government was making bad decisions and leading us in paths that diminished each citizen.
Rick Santelli did not start the Tea Parties, but he provided the inspirational spark that galvanized people across the country. People did not come to the tea party rallies because anyone told them to, there is no one in a position to do so. Possibly many of the union members are also so committed, but coercive pressure from peers, union stewards and bosses is also applied quite liberally.
Coercion in Political Lobbying and Co-Dependants
The Fall of the Midwest Economic Model
In 1970, the future seemed to belong to Michigan's example of big companies and big unions. Not anymore.
"Michigan is an extreme example of what has afflicted the industrial Midwest. Big corporations were replaced by big government as the leading employer, and public-employee unions replaced industrial unions as the chief financiers of the Democratic Party. In effect, public-employee unions have been a mechanism by which taxpayer money, in the form of union dues, permanently finances a lobby with a vested interest in higher spending and less accountability. It's a lobby that's benefited from the Democratic Party loyalties of black voters, of Latinos in Chicago (the only large Hispanic presence in the Midwest) and of culturally liberal suburbanites."
Political Candidates know that speaking in front of the Tea Party is great, good response, polite, etc. But don't focus your fundraising there, because there really isn't much money available. I know that the likes of Huffington Post, NYTimes, US News and World Report, continue the usual list on your own, all say that funding for the Tea Party comes from the Koch Bros, Rupert Murdoch or "Big Corporate" groups. Don't they wish! Both sides, the Tea Party here in Saint Paul, and elsewhere, and the media, eager to portray rich deep pockets of supporters, would like it to be so. I have gone to the tea party events since they started, and the Tax Cut Rallies before them. I have talked with the organizers. The funding is always on a shoe string, and often the volunteer organizers just barely made the payments to allow use of the Capitol grounds, the audio equipment etc.
The Union members come to rallies all decked out in brand new identical SEIU, Teamster, and other union emblazoned T-shirts, carrying professionally printed identical signs. There are no Tea Party uniform T-shirts, no pre-printed signs. The organizers were simply people who stepped forward in response to a personal commitment and desire. But it had many constituencies. Many also came due to the overreach of the federal government in the Healthcare debates. In the beginning it was cathartic, like a pep rally. Now, it's actually into the game, and in it to win. Less rallies and more marching down to the Capitol, testifying before legislature, etc. entering into party politics and how it works to accomplish the change in narrative and candidates. A revival of civics.
As the Tea Party movement grew up, then interest and support began to come nationwide and more organizations started to say they spoke for the Tea Party and started to organize. However, the heavily funded union lobby still overwhelms the Tea Party like an ocean to a tea cup. Take for example the donations to the two largest "Tea Party " organizations, the "Tea Party Patriots" and the "Tea Party Express."
"At the news conference today, Meckler took a not-so-indirect swipe at a rival Tea Party organization, the Tea Party Express, which operates a full-fledged political action committee that has reported more than $5 million in donations to the Federal Election Commission."
Service Employees International Union
Bachmann for Congress
American Federation of Teachers
Free & Strong America PAC
Intl Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
American Fedn of St/Cnty/Munic Employees
National Assn of Realtors
Democracy for America
Lyndon LaRouche PAC
Painters & Allied Trades Union
National Rifle Assn
American Assn for Justice
Communications Workers of America
Contrast with not just the "mandatory donations", aka dues, to the unions, which account for untold millions of dollars, but to what they actually spent in lobbying/support.
Top 20 PACs by Total Expenditures, 2011-2012
(Estimated split based on donor list, and stated affiliations). Nowhere in here is there a "tea party" organization, unless you wish to make a real stretch and call the Bachmann PAC "tea party," since she organized the Tea Party Caucus in Congress.
Then even more soft money contributions centered on election activities like that in the recent recall elections in Wisconsin.
National unions descended on Wisconsin to fight over collective bargaining because the real line of scrimmage was the political power of the unions. Since the legislation ended government collection of union dues, the ability of unions to strong-arm their members has already begun to wane.
The net effect of more than $30 million spent in Wisconsin's recall elections may seem like an exercise in futility, but the real lesson may be that voters were never as enraged by the policy dispute as the political professionals said they were. Unions made Wisconsin a great battleground to send a message to other states that politicians who challenge union power will pay a price. The real price was paid by the unions themselves, in the national demonstration of their diminishing power.
Intrusive Coercion in Protests
While the Tea Party protests at city hall, state house and congressional offices, and Washington Congressional building and the White House, the progressive left and Unions have successfully convinced people that the right to assemble and protest translates to the right to protest at your home, your place of business, block access to your stores, destroy your property, to a fundamental right to disrupt individuals lives. That's why the Unions get more attention from the media, they cause more pain.
Here in Minnesota the Unions followed Speaker John Boehner to a golf course to mock him
The event was staged by a coalition of union and community groups, along with help from MoveOn.org. A number of anti-war activists tagged along as well, including former FBI agent and congressional candidate Coleen Rowley. Organizers found themselves briefly playing cat and mouse with [Speaker John] Boehner on Wednesday morning after learning that he had nixed plans to hold the event at nearby Spring Hill Golf Club. Shortly before 11 a.m., they discovered the new location and redirected three busloads of protesters.
And Finally there is the Coercion of the Union in Employer Relations
The recent strike at Verizon has reports of protests at personal homes, possible sabotage of facilities and many many others.
So the differences between Unions and the Tea Party are many, varied and important. The Tea Party is all about free associations, while the central theme in union relations is coercion. The particular problems endemic in the relations of the public unions were studied in a paper by Daniel Desalvo where he gave an account of FDR
Even President Franklin Roosevelt, a friend of private-sector unionism, drew a line when it came to government workers: "Meticulous attention," the president insisted in 1937, "should be paid to the special relations and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the Government....The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service." The reason? F.D.R. believed that "[a] strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to obstruct the operations of government until their demands are satisfied. Such action looking toward the paralysis of government by those who have sworn to support it is unthinkable and intolerable." Roosevelt was hardly alone in holding these views, even among the champions of organized labor. Indeed, the first president of the AFL-CIO, George Meany, believed it was "impossible to bargain collectively with the government."
As a final difference, the Tea Party was frequently pointed to as the problem in the debt discussion, with no real factual basis (see Maxine Waters link above). How much more so should the the unions be looked at for participation on the debt crisis.