Author’s Note: This piece was originally published on the Grape Soda Digest back in June. In preparation for a forthcoming follow -up article, I am re-issuing this piece. Feel free to offer your comments.
When Reform Isn’t Progress: A Commentary About Wisconsin
“All change is not growth, as all movement is not forward.” Ellen Glasgow
There is much talk about the need for the American people to make changes in the way they live. The Great Recession demands that we all live a more austere existence. The message across the country is that public workers “make too much” and need to have their wages and benefits reduced since we are in tough fiscal times, and the pain must be spread. In Wisconsin and Ohio, there are bills circulating that propose to strip collective bargaining rights from unions. This is all done in the name of fiscal responsibility.
However, the tone of the national conversation on unions looks as if it is more about union busting than financial responsibility.
For starters, the sentiments expressed about public workers are one of contempt. Being regarded as a greedy, privileged, and selfish stratum of individuals, public workers are said to be bankrupting the states, drawing way too much in pensions, and being all around social leeches. It is the greatest example of projection that I have seen in the last decade. If you look behind the curtain and see who is behind this push for “reform”, it is the wealthy and well off. Google Koch Brothers if you are in doubt about that.
Secondly, the talk of financial responsibility rings hollow in this entire case. If the proponents of financial austerity were serious about balancing their budgets, they would tax the wealthy and make up for the shortfall from those who actually have it. We already see that this is not considered as an option. Starting with President Obama’s extension of the Bush tax cuts late last year, we got a crystal clear message what was not going to happen. Taxes will not be raised on the rich to make up for the budget shortfalls.
The media has seized upon the idea that people who work for the public sector are undeserving leeches. They point to the bureaucracy, and call up popular frustration to encourage a reduction of rights of public employees to negotiate livable wages.
If this continues, the entire public work force will be at the whim of the same patronage, favoritism, and instability that permeate the private sector. The only sector of workers that survived the 2008 financial meltdown is now being attacked by the very same forces that caused the crash in the first place.
What are we getting with this “reform”? Anyone who advocates this should be expected to explain in detail exactly what will replace the current system. Will public workers be reduced to being out on a whim? And what of the sectors of society that are serviced by the public workers? Does anyone really believe that they will receive better service from lower paid public sector employees? Also, what is the end point of this push to reduce pay and benefits? This will do nothing but further impoverish those who are already struggling.
The answer is not to destroy the standard of living for public employees. This entire attack on the public sector is a well funded and media driven campaign. At times you have to wonder whether or not Wall Street is running the country instead of the federal government. The dismantling of collective bargaining will mean poverty wages for more people. This anti union drive will only worsen unemployment which has not improved significantly despite what the official numbers say.
If you want to see the results of corporate reform, look no further than the non-stop assault on teachers. Our future may mean retiring into poverty, and job stability will be a thing of the past. Should conservatives and neo-liberals get their way; this will be no country for public workers. With pensions reduced, and threatened cuts in social security still very much on the table, retirement into poverty for the vast majority of American workers is all but assured. At some point, there has to be a voice of sanity. What needs to be said openly is that this is reprehensible. This reform is about ridding the rich of any impediments on their profit motive. Nothing more.
This is already having unforeseen consequences. The heavy handed nature of the Wisconsin governor’s demands has provoked a more militant response. At this moment, there is talk of a general strike of all the affected workers. This is no small point. The last general strike in the U.S. was in 1934. Under the circumstances, this may be the only response that will push back the unjust laws aimed at working people. At a time when the living standards of so many are receding, measures taken to accelerate this reality will eventually be met with resistance.
-Marc W. Polite