Benjamin Franklin famously responded to a question about what form of government the United States would have under the newly ratified Constitution saying, “We have a republic as long as we can keep it.”
February 22, 2011 — The Republican governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, won the November 2010 election by six (6) percentage points over his Democratic challenger, Tom Barnett. Pretty impressive, right? But does six percentage points translate to a mandate for social change on the magnitude taking place in Wisconsin this week? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wisconsin_gubernatorial_election,_2010.
Hmmmm… It seems to me that the governor of Wisconsin is the governor for all citizens of Wisconsin, even those folks who voted for Mr. Barnett. Notwithstanding, our representative form of democracy means that the governor will have his way on this public workers’ union business regardless of what the average Wisconsin voter may think about it. This is because the Republican Party also controls the state’s legislature, by a large margin in the State Assembly http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wisconsin_State_Assembly, and by lesser numbers in the Senate http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wisconsin_Senate. But would the majority of Wisconsins really support this move if they knew all the facts? I wonder, but we’ll likely never know; the only poll on the question I’ve seen so far suggests bias in the way the question is being asked http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/21/rasmussen-poll-on-wisconsin-dispute-may-be-biased/.
Just because a person votes Republican doesn’t mean that they necessarily believe workers should not have the right to negotiate collectively for pay and working conditions.
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. Accordingly, union leaders have signaled that they are, in fact, willing to make such concessions http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/22/wisconsin-budget-battle-c_n_826478.html. But the governor isn’t interested in making a deal. This is partly because he doesn’t want other government workers, those who are more supportive of him and of Republican principles to have to share in the sacrifice, or so I’ve been given to understand from my reading on the subject http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/21/opinion/21krugman.html?_r=2.
Even though Wisconsin is facing a terrible fiscal crisis, the governor has been pushing through tax cuts that make the deficit even worse. The bottom line, I think, is that he wants to end workers’ ability to bargain collectively and is therefore refusing to negotiate. Hey – why negotiate when you’re holding all the cards, right?
But why bust the unions when you can balance your budget in other ways? It’s really not helping Wisconsin deal with its current fiscal crisis. Nor is it likely to help the state’s budget prospects in the long run. Contrary to what you may think, public-sector workers in Wisconsin and everywhere else this country are paid less than what private-sector workers with comparable qualifications are paid http://www.businessinsider.com/wisconsin-public-sector-wages-2011-2. So it’s not about the budget; it’s about power.
In principle, every American citizen has an equal say in our political process. In practice, however, some of us are more equal than others: Billionaires can field armies of lobbyists; they can finance think tanks that put the desired spin on policy issues, and; they can funnel cash to politicians with sympathetic views (as the Koch brothers have done in the case of Governor Walker) http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/22/us/22koch.html.
On paper, we’re a one-person-one-vote nation. In reality, we’re more like an oligarchy, a situation in which a handful of wealthy people dominate. And, although some define it differently, when business controls the state, this is called fascism http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Definitions_of_fascism. The more power wealthy business interests gain, the less power individual citizens retain.
Benjamin Franklin famously responded to a question about what form of government the United States would have under the newly ratified Constitution saying, “We have a republic as long as we can keep it.” Well, it is my belief that we are perilously close to losing it, if we have not in fact already lost it.
One does not have to love unions or believe that their policy positions are always right to recognize that they are among the few influential players in our political system that represent the interests of the middle-class. A retired teacher now myself, I have never believed in tenure for teachers. But I have always believed that workers should have the right to collectively bargain for wages and work conditions if that is what they want.
Indeed, if America has become more oligarchic and less democratic with a shrinking middle-class over the last 70 years — which it has http://finance.yahoo.com/tech-ticker/the-u.s.-middle-class-is-being-wiped-out-here’s-the-stats-to-prove-it-520657.html?tickers=%5EDJI,%5EGSPC,SPY,MCD,WMT,XRT,DIA — this is largely true because of the increasing influence the wealthy few have on government and the decline of unions since passage of the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Union_busting.
The injustice I perceive in all of this is exacerbated by the fact that Wisconsin’s fiscal crisis, as in other states, was largely caused by the increasing power of America’s oligarchy. It was, after all, the super wealthy and most influential players in the game, not the general public, who pushed for financial deregulation. This set the stage and tumbled the economic building blocks that became the Great Recession of 2008-9, a recession whose aftermath is the main reason for current budget crunches in so many states. Now this oligarchy is pushing the political right to exploit that very crisis. Except for the fact that there is no humor to be found in it, I would call this whole situation ironic.
I invite you comments, whether you agree with me or not.