Author: Cordelia Kenney
The financial crisis has made sacrifices and cutbacks necessary all over the country, but none have been as drastic as what Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker proposes in his new bill. The bill not only aggressively attacks collective bargaining, but also attacks health insurance and retirement benefits while increasing privatization of public resources. In defending his plan for cutting costs in the public sector, Walker’s thinly-concealed guise of narrowing the state’s deficit is little more than an attempt to bring down unions and increase corporate profits.
Multiple sources are beginning to unravel just how tightly-knit Walker is with private corporations by pulling at the thread of his relationship with the two billionaire brothers behind the energy conglomerate Koch Industries, Inc. Truth-out.org reported that Koch donated over $43,000 to Walker’s campaign and also ran multiple attack ads aimed at his Democratic rival. To return the favor, “Koch political operatives pressured Walker to crush labor unions as one of his first priorities,” according to truth-out.org.
Op-ed columnist for the New York Times Paul Krugman quoted author of “The Shock Doctrine” Naomi Kline in a recent article, saying, “Since the ’70s right-wing ideologues have exploited crises to push through an agenda that has nothing to do with resolving those crises and everything to do with imposing their vision of a harsher, more unequal, less democratic society.” In the case of Wisconsin and now Ohio and Indiana, this assessment proves to be dead-on. By emphasizing the harsh economic times, Walker and other Republican governors eager to follow suit are initiating an ideological attack on America’s labor movement.
Professor Peter Dreier, Chair of Occidental’s Urban and Environmental Policy Department and E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics, explained, “Every state is losing revenue because the economy is not doing well, and the economy is not doing well because of the greed and bad practices of banks and corporations. The Republicans now in office are scapegoating the public sector workers in order to advance corporate interests.” While the unemployment rate soars and wages remain stagnant for the vast majority of Americans, the wealth of the richest one percent of the country continues to pile ever higher at the expense of the other 99 percent. Walker and friends are aggressively trying to “narrow the deficit” by cutting medical and retirement programs while simultaneously giving massive tax cuts to corporations.
In what Richard Eskow of ourfuture.org called “the epicenter for a battle between the dying American middle class and a plutocracy,” the protests in Madison, however, reflect that, finally, the public will not passively stand by as corporate political power attempts to dominate legislation. Politico.com published recent polls that showed 51 percent of Wisconsinites disapproved of Walker’s performance, 67 percent were in favor of public employees and a definitive 74 percent did not support the elimination of collective bargaining.
A recent Gallup Poll, moreover, reported that 61 percent of Americans “would oppose a law in their state similar to one being considered in Wisconsin.” The public’s overwhelming backlash at the proposed bill is tangible not only at the steps of Madison’s capitol building but all across the nation as well. “Wherever you go, there is support [for the unions],” Executive Director of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy Madeline Janis said of a recent visit to Madison. Other groups such as moveon.org, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) and Service Employees International Union held enormous rallies nationwide this past Saturday, Feb. 26.
And rightly so. “We are in the worst recession since the Depression, yet there is hardly any protest,” Dreier said. “There was a huge concentration of wealth in the ’20s, and people all over the country took to the streets. The same thing is happening now, yet there’s barely a peep, so it’s a great sign that people are finally getting angry about it.” Corporate interests have dominated politics for far too long. In this critical test of the stability of progressive legislature, American citizens must promote and validate the value of democracy and not allow the corporate elite to prevail.
With respect to the students who are affected by the teachers’ strike in Wisconsin that initiated the public outcry, Dreier suggests that the strike offers a “great education in civic participation, democracy and the importance of people coming together to support each other. This is a great teaching moment in what America could be and what America is becoming.” If this bill were to go through, moreover, it would result in significant pay cuts to the teachers. Lower quality pay invariably brings lower quality teachers, which ultimately puts the students at a disadvantage.
“America is the richest country in the world,” Dreier said. “There is no reason we cannot afford to pay these workers a decent enough salary to maintain a middle class standard of living.” Instead of heaping the entire nation’s financial burden on the working class of America while padding the pockets of corporations, Republican governors like Walker should consider trying the opposite: providing for those who have nothing by taxing those who have it all.
Cordelia Kenney is an undeclared first-year. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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