Il Sorpasso

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A great Italian movie of the early sixties directed by Dino Risi, usually translated as “The Easy Life.” The actual meaning is “the passing maneuver” — and that is the moment we are about to witness. Our friends at the Education Intelligence Agency, white hats and trench coats at the ready, note that we are very close to the moment when public sector union membership jets past the number of union employees in the private sector. A dangerous maneuver indeed.

Last year was one of the best in ages for organized labor, as 428,000 members were added to union rolls. But before you crack open your choice of champagne or cyanide, it’s worth examining what propelled the boost.

The unionization rate in the private sector edged up to 7.6% from 7.5%.

The unionization rate in the public sector soared to 36.8% from 35.9%.

In raw terms, unions were able to add about 151,000 members in the private sector and about 275,000 in the public sector. The economy lost more than 640,000 jobs last year, but government hired 252,000 more employees.

And then some historical perspective on “il sorpasso.”

What remains clear is that unionization rates in the public sector are increasing dramatically faster than those in the private sector. In 1980, there were 14.3 million union members in the private sector and 5.8 million in the public sector. Last year, there were fewer than 8.3 million in the private sector and more than 7.8 million in the public sector. If current trends continue, by 2012 there will be more union members in government than in private enterprise.

You film buffs will remember the final scene in the movie. The young Italian law student, after the dangerous passing maneuver, veers off the cliff. The older man who led him down this path (described by some as “a no-good con artist, … loud, hyperactive, exhibitionist, self-centered, narcissistic, immature, confrontational, untrustworthy and…irresistible”) looks down, shocked by what he has done.