Wednesday, February 23, 2011

In Solidarity

The Windy City is a union town. People in Chicago are proud of their steel toed boots and calloused hands and ability to put up skyscrapers. We have teachers and nurses and cops and many other kinds of unionized labor and we understand why America needs organized labor. Hell, some of America's most intense labor battles have been fought right here on our turf.

I'm going to reprint my article published at The Pragmatic Progressive, as well as some other excellent articles.

Here's the first: (pub'd 2/21/11)

Cairo in Madison? Say what?
This past week while crowds of outraged protesters swelled in Madison against Wisconsin’s union-busting governor Scott Walker’s attempt to castrate them, Republican Representative Paul Ryan made an amazing comparison: “It’s like Cairo has moved to Madison.”
My jaw dropped when I read that; I said to myself, “say what?” Was Ryan comparing his compatriot Walker to Hosni Mubarak?  Really? How flattering was that?
Alternatively, I wondered whether he was comparing the enraged Wisconsin workers to the beleaguered and heroic Egyptian citizens who had demanded political freedom. And if so -- how bright was that? Doesn’t he know those guys won?
Well, whatever. I’m going to run with it (thank you, Mr. Ryan).
Ryan was far more correct than his puzzling cluelessness will ever let him know.
What’s really happening in Wisconsin isn’t about the state’s damn budget, despite Walker’s elaborate huffin’ & puffin’ that it is (the guy’s beginning to remind me of Foghorn Leghorn). All his blather about the need to be fiscally responsible is… chicken poop (take that Foghorn).
What this charade is really about is power. But don’t take it from me. Take it from Paul Krugman.
Krugman, a Nobel Prize winning economist, is a pretty smart guy. Of course, I can’t balance my checkbook so I tend to hold people with a mind for macro- and microeconomics on a rather high pedestal. However, I don’t toady and grovel at the feet of others when it comes to an understanding of history: that discipline, my friends, I have down pat.
What struck me about Krugman’s article yesterday in The New York Times is Krugman’s brilliance in understanding the history that has led to this moment. I can’t tell you if he’s right about Keynes or Galbraith or supply-side or no-side but I know he’s right on the real money in his understanding about Walker and his union-busting attacks. (And BTW I laughed out loud when I read that Krugman also thought Paul Ryan made an idiotic statement. Allow me to bask in the possibility that it’s true “great minds think alike.”)
Krugman wrote, “What Mr. Walker and his backers are trying to do is to make Wisconsin — and eventually, America — less of a functioning democracy and more of a third-world-style oligarchy. And that’s why anyone who believes that we need some counterweight to the political power of big money should be on the demonstrators’ side.”
Krugman went on to say, “Wisconsin is indeed facing a budget crunch, although its difficulties are less severe than those facing many other states. Revenue has fallen in the face of a weak economy, while stimulus funds, which helped close the gap in 2009 and 2010, have faded away. In this situation, it makes sense to call for shared sacrifice, including monetary concessions from state workers. And union leaders have signaled that they are, in fact, willing to make such concessions.”
Here’s the crux of it, “…Mr. Walker isn’t interested in making a deal. Partly that’s because he doesn’t want to share the sacrifice: even as he proclaims that Wisconsin faces a terrible fiscal crisis, he has been pushing through tax cuts that make the deficit worse. Mainly, however, he has made it clear that rather than bargaining with workers, he wants to end workers’ ability to bargain.”
What Walker wants to do is kill collective bargaining.
Wisconsin state Senator Chris Larson, who is one of the senators who fled the state to thwart Walker, laid out the stakes when he explained, “The ability to organize and get fair treatment are qualities that built our country... If this bill moves forward in Wisconsin, rights in all America we have grown to take for granted will no longer be so reliable... If this passes here, it will pass in your state... It is an unprecedented attack on workers, their communities and our tradition of working with labor to move our state forward....”
The bitter irony, as Krugman and I will both tell you, is the fiscal crisis in Wisconsin has been largely caused by the increasing power of America’s rising oligarchy – an oligarchy that claims multi-millionaire and Koch Brothers-loving Walker among its number. Never lose sight of the fact that it was the uber wealthy in this country – not the general public -- who aggressively pushed for financial deregulation.  (No pun intended but you can take that fact to the bank.)
The Wild West of Deregulation that began to emerge under the Reagan Travesty set the stage for the economic crisis of 2008-9. And guess what?  That crisis created the current budget crunch in many states, not just Wisconsin. It also created the current crisis in your own wallet.
With breathtaking hubris the political right now dares to exploit that very crisis. They wield this crisis like a cudgel – a crisis of their own making -- to beat down any last vestige of contrarian power. It is totally in the best interests of the oligarchs to destroy any form of cogent rebellion against their determined transformation of American democracy into a full-fledged oligarchy – one that I actually like to refer to as a theo-oligarchy because of its Christofascist themes.
Krugman, Senator Larson and thousands of others realize that when Walker’s bill strips away collective bargaining rights for many of Wisconsin’s workers it will also consequentially destroy collective bargaining across the country.
Union busting is all about breaking a powerful force in American politics – a force that has always reflected middle-class views and priorities about the American dream and distributive justice, equal opportunity, and financial security. Unions create equal playing fields for everyone, even those workers who are not unionized. The only significant weapon that organized labor has is collective bargaining.  
Let’s look at what the oligarchs like Walker and the Koch Brothers have in the way of power on their side: they have money and lots of it. If you're loaded up the wazoo you don't need "no stinkin badges" like collective bargaining because your guns are greenbacks.
The uber wealthy buy their power, they don't collectively bargain for it! The only thing you have if you don't have money is your unity with others and the strength of collective bargaining.
Sure, it’s a cherished maxim that every one of us has an equal say in the political system but we all know the reality is that some us are “far more equal” than the rest of us and money buys the power to make that so. The uber wealthy are able to buy lobbyists and their vast financial power allows them to assemble whole organizations devoted to manipulating facts and impregnating public discourse with their own self-serving spin. The privileged rich shovel cash at politicians who hold sympathetic views about unbridled capitalism and will fight to preserve an unfair tax code that inures to the benefit of the wealthy but cripples the rest of us. These same people and their lackeys attack universal healthcare reform under the ruse of a nonexistent ethical claim that healthcare is not a right but a privilege or a bunch of legal mumbo jumbo about the free commerce clause in the Constitution.  
Organized union labor built middle-class America and it has now been under attack since Reagan launched the first salvo against PATCO. If you want to know “how the hell” so much of the mess that now haunts your financial security happened to you, take the time to learn about the House that Labor built in America and how the Republicans have been trying to dismantle that house, brick by painful brick, for thirty-plus years. When you do that, you might realize how unions have been a powerful and leveling force in American politics since the turn of the last century. They have been open to men and women, Christians and Jews and Moslems, people of color, people with disabilities. Union strength has allowed those not born to privilege to buy homes and send their kids to college. Union pensions have given aged workers dignity in retirement. Unions have stood up against sexual harassment in the work force and demanded safe working conditions, humane hours, and wage protections for those injured and ill.  Union pensions have proven more secure than those managed by many corporations. Standards that have been set on the union side have helped non-unionized labor argue for equal benefits as well and have gone far to rewrite the scripts in human resource departments in all industries and businesses.
Unions are not perfect – after all they are made up of people -- and there is room to criticize their occasional excess but in the main – for the vast majority of labor history – unions have served as the one powerful voice that consistently speaks out for those who labor in America.
If their rout is complete one of the last bricks holding up that wobbly leg of middle-class security will be broken.
Just try limping along then.
Addendum to article:
Governor Walker’s only union support came from the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Association and it is now quickly eroding. The executive board president of the WLEA expressed regret for their earlier endorsement of Walker; in fact, the union actually apologized for it. As already mentioned Walker’s budget bill exempted local police officers, firefighter and the Wisconsin State Patrol, groups who had heavily supported in him. Critics labeled the exemption political payback and a deliberate attempt to turn government workers against each other.

Meanwhile members of the police and firefighters unions marched have joined their other unionists in support which is a very good thing and I want to note it here.
Walker’s front is weakening among business leaders as well. Madison’s Chamber of Commerce criticized Walker for his out of state support, particularly the powerful Koch brothers, Walker's second largest campaign contributor.


  1. It's my belief that unions make a country more competitive, more fair, and more productive.

    People who are anti-union need a good history lesson - and you don't have to look back too far to see how awful it was without them.

    Great Post and Congratulations to Chicago on voting Rahm Emanuel as your next Mayor. I only say that because it's who I would have voted for.

  2. excellent commentary! my update is that walker has been punk'd in a 20 minute phone call from someone pretending to be david koch. he really spilled the beans then, including the astonishing fact that he had considered sending troublemakers out to mingle with the pro-union crowds and create some sort of trouble. (likely trouble for the protesters, thus ending what has for nine days been a peaceful protest)

  3. You are SPOT ON on this. The only difference is that I prefer "plutocracy" over "oligarchy," although they both technically apply. LOL.

  4. I meant that I have a preference of which word I use, not that prefer plutocracy or oligarchy over democracy. LOL. That's what happens when I make comments late at night...doesn't always come across as clearly as it was in my head. LOL.