Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Supporting workers in the Midwest

We like to say that America is a classless society, but that simply is not true. It's always been to the benefit of the wealthy in this country to dismiss the idea of class while rigging the system to keep them and their heirs on top. The current attempts of state governments in the Midwest to undo the progress that working people have made in the past 150 years in the US are the latest battle on this front, and it is a blatant and outrageous  attack.

Wisconsin's Republican governor, Scott Walker, is using his state's budget shortfall to take away the right of collective bargaining from most public-sector unions -- a right that Americans fought, and died, to establish. This is completely unacceptable. What is a union if not a group of workers who have the ability to bargain as a unit?

Wisconsin and Ohio -- the second state to declare war on unions -- have real fiscal issues, and so do most states, but these have been caused by a decrease in revenue due to the deep recession that the country was plunged into by Wall Street and by insufficient tax rates on millionaires. In both instances, the wealthy have benefited greatly and now those gains are going to be solidified on the backs of teachers, firefighters, police officers, garbage men and other state and municipal workers -- middle-class Americans who, as George Bailey says in It's A Wonderful Life, "do most of the working and paying and living and dying" in this country.

These are not desperate maneuvers in a time of fiscal emergency, but it is rather a strategy by the wealthy to increase the gold in their overflowing coffers: cut taxes for the rich; cut programs for the needy because there is suddenly less money to pay for them; and vilify public-sector unions.

The wealthy have fought labor unions as long as they have existed, using massive amounts of violence that is left out of the textbooks we use in our history classes. Many people were intimidated, fired, beaten and killed, but it was the courage of working men and women that won every battle against the more powerful forces that tried to keep them down. That struggle never ended; it only changed forms, so that companies like Wal-Mart are much more sophisticated in their anti-unions actions.

With the loss of most of America's manufacturing jobs and with the ever-present animosity of big business and the wealthy, private-sector unions are a much smaller player today. Of course, corruption is a part of that story, but so is a string of successes that includes not only a multitude of codified rights, but a national economy that outgrew all others even as union workers made decent wages, making the US economy the envy of others in the 20th century.

People in public-sector jobs deserve respect and a decent wage. They also deserve the right to bargain collectively with their employers. Taking away that right would be antithetical to everything America stands for. All working people should be aligned with the workers in Wisconsin and Ohio as they fight the latest battle in America's class war.

Photo courtesy of csmonitor.com.

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