I just got back from a very spirited rally in
Attacks on Unions Barking Up the Wrong Money Tree
Friday 25 February 2011
Protesters continue to demonstrate against a proposed spending bill by Gov. Scott Walker at the State Capitol in
"More cheese, less sleaze!"
That was the funniest group chant at Tuesday's rally of several hundred union and other progressive activists outside the
Several "cheeseheads" were in attendance, their noggins topped by the now familiar wedge-shaped, orange hatwear made popular by
Governor Walker continues his obdurate opposition to the state's public employee unions' right to collective bargaining, despite a willingness on their part to concede pension and health givebacks he claims would help close Wisconsin's alleged deficit. Meanwhile, there has been a decided increase on the sleaze end of the cheese vs. sleaze quotient, as evidenced in part by the prank phone call to the governor in which an online newspaper editor impersonating right-wing billionaire David Koch elicited from Walker a proposed scheme to lure back, then double cross, Democratic state senators who have prevented a quorum by retreating to Illinois. Further, when asked about planting troublemakers amongst the protesters,
But of course, this isn't really about saving taxpayers money. but consolidating political power. Walker and such leading lights of the GOP leadership as Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, among others, have decided that public employee unions make great punching bags, effective scapegoats for an outraged electorate and a satisfactory diversion from the real culprits of this grim, economic melodrama - the Simon Legrees of banking and finance who got us into this meltdown mess in the first place.
As Josh Dorner reported on the progressive ThinkProgress web site this week, "Instead of making the tough choices necessary to help their states weather the current crisis with some semblance of the social safety net and basic government services intact, Republican governors are instead using it as an opportunity to advance several longtime GOP projects
Dorner cites examples
Writing in the February 23 Boston Globe, Mark Erlich, executive secretary-treasurer of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters asks, "While there are legitimate and critical public policy issues about education reform, spiraling health costs, and pension liabilities at a time of state and municipal budget deficits, why is the fault laid at the feet of teachers, police and firefighters? Today's pension obligations are the product of massive investment losses, not excessively generous public pensions that, in fact, average about $19,000 a year. For that matter, a 2010 Economic Policy Institute study showed that, controlled for educational achievement, public sector workers actually earn less than their private sector counterparts."
So, instead of screaming about the advances public employee and other unions have made to preserve health care, job security and economic justice, angry voters should be asking what or who has been keeping them from obtaining the same. Nor does Wall Street's pillaging of private 401 (k) retirement plans justify tit-for-tat, eye-for-an-eye acts of covetous revenge against union pensions. As Erlich writes, "A generation ago, non-union workers often welcomed news of improved wages and benefits for unionized employees, recognizing that a rising tide lifts all boats. But ... at a time of sacrifice and insecurity, many would prefer to sink their neighbor's slightly bigger boat while wistfully hoping for a glance at a yacht in a gated marina."
The American middle class largely exists because of unions; it would be a tragedy of Greek proportions if, in frustration, resentment and fear, members of that class were to turn on labor and bring about their mutual destruction. Conservative Republican governors and their associates are barking up the wrong money tree. Don't reward corporate greed and malfeasance with yet more tax breaks and a blind eye to windfall bonuses. And don't punish unions for whatever success they've had protecting members and holding on to an ever-dwindling power base of American workers. That's just plain cheesy and sleazy.
Michael Winship is senior writer at Public Affairs Television.
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs