Wisconsin: Ground Zero to Save Public Worker Rights

Ronald Reagan was right saying:

Government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem.

His type governance, that is, and from administrations that followed, Democrats as ruthless as Republicans.

For decades, bipartisan consensus governed lawlessly, waging imperial wars, trashing human rights and civil liberty protections, unabashedly backing monied interests, letting them loot the federal treasury, fleecing working Americans, and targeting organized labor for destruction.

Washington is ground zero for government’s assault. Outside the beltway, it’s Wisconsin, but spreading fast to other states and cities. An unfair fight pits major media-supported federal, state and local governments allied with union bosses against American workers, largely on their own, relying on their grit and resourcefulness to survive in a very hostile environment.

Threatened are hard-won worker rights, including secure jobs, a living wage, essential benefits, and the right to bargain collectively with management to protect them. They’re going, going, and soon gone unless mass grassroots activism saves them, what’s so far absent. Wisconsin worker heroics are impressive, but not enough.

Much more is needed  – there and across America, because workers in all states and communities are threatened, their rights being trashed and have been for decades, especially since the Carter administration drafted plans Reagan implemented:

Firing over 11,000 PATCO workers, jailing its leaders, fining the union millions of dollars, and effectively busting it for monied interests. It was a shot across organized labor’s bow, a clear message to Wall Street and other corporate favorites – supported by then AFL-CIO president, Lane Kirkland, one of many labor bosses who betrayed rank and file trust. They still do for their own self-interest. No wonder organized labor is a shadow of its former self, headed for extinction unless stopped.

Reagan’s administration set the pattern. Union bosses conspired with management against their own membership. During bitter coal miner, steel worker, bus driver, airline worker, copper miner, auto worker, and meatpacking worker strikes, they denied rank and file support, assuring them defeat. At decade’s end, trade unionism in America was decimated and kept declining since, heading for oblivion with little pressure to stop it.

Obama’s war on labor shows he matches Republican harshness. He abandoned US auto workers for management forcing:

– plant closures;
– jobs shipped abroad;
– permanent ones lost;
– lower wages;
– gutted work rules, including on-the-job health and safety protections; and
– forfeited security through lost benefits and pensions, including for retirees, besides everything lost in 2007 under Bush.

Obama also abandoned the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) after promising support. If enacted, it would have been labor’s most impressive triumph since passage of the landmark 1935 Wagner Act, letting labor bargain collectively for the first time with management on even terms.

It would have mandated good faith bargaining as a fundamental right, protected from management or government interference.

It also would have strengthened Wagner Act provisions to unionize, bargain collectively through chosen representatives, and provide other worker protections. It would have leveled the playing field to empower them more than since Taft-Hartley weakened them significantly.

It would have affirmed the 1937 Supreme Court Virginia Railway Co. v. Railway Employees decision that “employees (have) the right to organize and bargain collectively through a representative of their own selection, doing away with company interference and ‘company union.’ ”

Also, the Courts 1937 National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation ruling that J & L engaged in unfair labor practices by “discriminating against members of the union with regard to hire and tenure of employment, and was coercing and intimidating its employees in order to interfere with their self-organization.” It said union representation “was essential (to) give laborers opportunity to deal (equally) with their employer,” public workers afforded the same rights as private ones.

No longer. We’ve come a long way from New Deal policies and fair Justices. Today’s Democrats, Republicans, and courts are supremely pro-business, especially the Roberts Court, selected to be anti-labor, in the tank for monied interests, and it shows.

Big Media Bashes Labor

On February 17, Media Matters headlined, “Right-Wing Media Freak Out Over Union Protests,” quoting Fox News hosts and guests saying:

– Glenn Beck calls union protests “riots” and “uprisings,” adding that “Evil (is) spreading around the globe;”

– Hard-right commentator, Michelle Malkin, said protesters “stormed” the Capitol, using students as “kiddie human shields….sacrificial lambs,” also calling demonstrators “union thugs;”

– Republican strategist, Kate Obenshain, told Sean Hannity: “We see something that’s going on, say, in Wisconsin, where they have the rallies for the teachers, where teachers are yanking kids out of the classrooms and calling in sick – totally lying…;” and

– Fox’s Tracy Byrnes called Wisconsin protests “actually, borderline gonna get violent, it sounds like” when, in fact, they’ve been remarkably peaceful unlike how extremist right-wingers agitate.

CNN is just as bad, competing with Fox for bottom-of-the-barrel honors, but nothing on corporate TV or radio has merit. Nor in print; to wit, Time magazine’s Joe Klein in his February 18 article headlined, “Wisconsin: The Hemlock Revolution,” saying:

In the Middle East, “protesters are marching for democracy; in the middle west, they’re protesting against it….trying to prevent a vote….(trying) to stymie majority rule….”

Republicans won, said Klein. “In a democracy, there are consequences to elections and no one, not even the public employees union, are exempt from that.” Even labor contacts aren’t sacrosanct he believes. “We hold elections to decide” those things. “And it seems to me that Governor Scott Walker’s basic requests are modest ones….”

If Time prints this anti-labor screed and similar op-eds, why should Fox surprise? America’s entire corporate establishment, including big media, is united against labor rights, targeting them for destruction.

Even the New York Times opposes closed schools and public services blocked for any reason, no matter how important doing it is to force change, what’s never possible without it and much more. Timidity yields nothing but tears.

Like other Wall Street Journal writers and its editorial staff, Steven Malanga is no friend of labor, his February 22 WSJ article headlined, “The Showdown Over Public Union Power,” saying:

“Public unions (are) among the biggest players in national politics,” contributing millions compared to billions from corporate donors way out-muscling them. “If Gov. Walker succeeds….other reformers will follow (to) restrict public-sector” union power. It “would give opponents around the country a new playbook to follow in countering the rich resources and deep influence of public unions over taxes and spending.”

No wonder observers call WJS opinion writers the print version of Fox News, both Murdoch owned, his editorial policy rigorously enforced.

In spring 2009, the corporate media enthusiastically embraced Obama’s assault on auto worker rights for decent jobs, a living wage and essential benefits, including pensions. The New York Times took the lead, supporting General Motors’ “government-backed bankruptcy process,” saying it would let GM “discard (its) liabilities and unwanted assets and produce a profitable, albeit smaller, car company,” with thousands fewer employees.

The Financial Times agreed, listing preferred “liabilities” to be shed, including “legacy” ones, meaning pensions and health care benefits. The Washington Post said it’s “important that the president did not flinch in demanding even deeper concessions from workers.” The Wall Street Journal said it was “glad the Administration is at least talking a tougher line on bankruptcy than Mr. Bush (to) force the companies and their unions to make the hard decisions that politics may still let them avoid.”

The unanimity of corporate managed news offered support then and now against worker rights they disdain, and why not? They’re giants with large workforces they want without rights, beyond minimal ones too little to matter.

On August 20, 1999, New York Times writer, Tom Friedman, headlined, “Foreign Affairs; An American in Paris,” saying:

“The most important thing (Ronald) Reagan did was break the 1981 air traffic controllers’ strike, which helped break the hold of organized labor over the US economy.” Crushing workers gave US corporations greater flexibility to invest in new labor-saving equipment, technology and methods to cut staff, pay less, and achieve great cost savings, said Friedman. He practically gloated about the collapse of labor rights, weaker now after a decade under Bush and Obama.

More recently on May 8, 2010, Friedman headlined, “Root Canal Politics,” denouncing workers for believing in the “tooth fairy,” expecting government services without paying for them. Baby boomers, he said, had “eaten through all that abundance like hungry locusts.” After getting their way for decades, “it’s now going to be, mostly, about taking things away. Goodbye Tooth Fairy politics, hello Root Canal politics.” He barely concealed joy, crowing over worker pain like all pro-business columnists, even ones claiming progressive credentials.

On February 21, The Times featured commentaries from anti-union advocates like Professor Daniel DiSalvo headlining, “Hitting the Unions Where It Hurts,” saying:

Walker wants “to dismantle (the) dysfunctional, circular relationship between unionized government employees, the politicians they help elect, and the rising wages and benefits to which they commit government.” In fact, wages have stagnated for over three decades, and essential benefits have eroded.

Nonetheless, DiSalvo took sides, saying, “If successful, Walker’s plan may (make) Wisconsin (more) like Texas or Virginia (where) most collective bargaining in the public sector is illegal and the percentage of unionized public employees is paltry.” He hopes Wisconsin “will have as bright a fiscal outlook” as those states, affording workers there few or no rights.

Christian Schneider also got space headlining, “Fiscally Modest, Politically Bold,” saying:

Walker only asks workers to “accept modest changes to their benefits, or face losing their jobs.” False. Layoffs are coming and without collective bargaining power no job or essential benefit is safe. “Public employee unions will continue to protest,” said Schneider, “even though (Walker) is the first politician who has told them the truth in ages.” In fact, Obama backs the same policies, enforcing them since taking office.

Even the hard-right Heritage Foundation got space, James Sherk headlining “FDR Warned Us,” saying:

“Government workers….don’t generate profits. They merely negotiate for more tax money.” In fact, like private sector ones, they deserve similar rights. Moreover, unlike corporate predators, they earn, not steal what they get, what Sherk noticeably side-stepped. Instead, he hailed Walker’s plan, saying it “reasserts voter control over government policy,” perhaps forgetting public workers also vote and deserve officials treating them equitably.

A Final Comment

Mass protests in Wisconsin continue. Tuesday was day eight. Involved are over 200,000 state workers and supporters, including students and teachers. Key is preserving collective bargaining rights without which no others are safe. Neither side so far is budging, Walker ordered by Republican leaders to hold fast. Other states are watching, governors there to grab all Walker gets, or more like in Ohio where Governor Kasich’s bill is even more draconian.

Though major demonstrations continue, the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC), representing 98,000 teachers, told its members to return to work. Other unions also expect the bill’s passage, perhaps before week’s end. So far, absent Democrat senators remain secluded in neighboring Illinois, denying Republicans a quorum. They continue being hardline. Sooner or later expect Democrats to concede. When they return, Walker can declare victory.

Nonetheless, rank and file opposition remains strong, including among teachers, students and supporters traveling long distances to march and protest in Madison. The University of Wisconsin-Madison Teaching Assistants Association (TAA) called for a “teach-out,” replacing a walkout saying, “We are calling for instructors to use their discretion to cancel classes, reschedule them or hold them off campus.”

Demonstrations around the country support them from Maryland and New Hampshire to Nevada and Olympia, Washington, knowing workers there can expect their own moment of truth. It’s spreading everywhere, pitting bought-and-paid-for-pols allied with union bosses against working Americans. They’re fighting for hard-won rights fast eroding toward elimination unless mass activism draws the line and holds it, no matter what. Their choice now is fight or lose. There’s no middle ground against forces unwilling to yield.

Stephen Lendman wrote How Wall Street Fleeces America: Privatized Banking, Government Collusion and Class War. Contact him at: lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. Also visit his blog site and listen to The Global Research News Hour on RepublicBroadcasting.org Mondays from 11AM-1PM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests. All programs are archived for easy listening. Read other articles by Stephen.

10 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. kalidasa said on February 23rd, 2011 at 4:54pm #

    I see a problem here. A big problem.

    How are people who are laid off, unemployed for years, broke and broker, down and out, going to muster any sympathy, let alone blood and sweat, for teachers who make an average of 50K for an eight month year with another 40K in benefits?
    Call them the middle class or backbone or whatever you want but in 21st century America they ain’t the average bear anymore , Toto.

    These working poor see who the demonstrators are and who their supporters are and it isn’t them.

    Also, does anyone think or believe the students themselves are being deprived of an education during this, what amounts to a break for them?
    Hell, they could read a couple of banned novels during their downtime and learn more than they will during the whole break even if it lasts all year.
    For them, not not the very few influenced activists among them, that’s exactly what this all is.

    Just sayin..

  2. Vic Anderson said on February 23rd, 2011 at 5:37pm #

    SOLIDARITY, Instead: I’M Madison, and I’m NOT Going To Take IT, ANYMORE!

  3. Don Hawkins said on February 24th, 2011 at 2:56am #

    Best part of the transcript:

    Fake David Koch: Well, I tell you what, Scott: once you crush these bastards, I’ll fly you out to Cali’ and really show you a good time.

    Real Scott Walker: All right, that would be outstanding.

    What is it with Cali maybe they could meet up with dear old Blankenship you know Massey Massey Massey and just how deep does the rabbit hole go great question. Crush these bastards that wasn’t very nice and just might want to file that under ugly. Of course today we will all be made to believe that black is white and this is how it is done in the greatest nation on Earth. Probably so and I will go to one of the financial channel’s and watch the little angles and see just how they are going to crush these bastards. That being said what do you all think of a pyramid with a dollar sign running through it maybe an eye on top. The sign post up ahead reads Wall Street or is that Fox New’s welcome to the wondrous land of imagination. It’s early maybe a nice cup of coffee.

  4. Don Hawkins said on February 24th, 2011 at 3:41am #

    Ok just had some coffee black seems like such a waste to mix it all up and so we see demonstrations and appears some are willing to take a cut while others will be more than glad to take all they can get. That train coming down the track that the few have managed to turn into white is very real and rather large and is starting to add up on 2/24/2011. The leader of the free World is he still playing golf as Detroit is burning so to speak and now with a lack of police does bring up an interesting question will the military be with the people? Color me crazy but the people of Earth speech could be helpful and heck all he would have to do is tell the truth use known knowledge kind of like everything made as simple as possible but not simpler. It does appear that a few like on Wall Street are trying to make as much money/gold as fast as possible you know the private sector then I guess off to Cali for one last party. This to me is not a very good plan but to tell the truth seems to fool with pursuing their institutional role: maximizing short-term profit and putting aside externalities. Again seems like one hell of away to end life as we know it on the third planet from the Sun.

    Real Scott Walker: All right, that would be outstanding.

    Sorry old boy nothing outstanding about it and some suggestions reason, known knowledge not illusion we all work together and yes we know it will not be easy and forget the castle a very lonely place as you look out the window and see unreality and reality at the same time and a bit confusing. Ok then when should we get started? Oh you few have other plan in mind and just what might that be?

  5. Don Hawkins said on February 24th, 2011 at 4:10am #

    {http://goes.gsfc.nasa.gov/goescolor/goeswest/overview2/color_lrg/latestfull.jpg}

    Gov Walker you seem to like being a smart ass so what planet is that best guess? No it’s not Mars guess again. Maybe one of your backers will know.

  6. mary said on February 24th, 2011 at 4:46am #

    Don I thought you lived in the US. If it is not inquisitive to ask do you stay up all night posting your messages? Mine here usually get timed in the early hours but I am 7 hrs ahead of the time on this site which I think is EST.

  7. Don Hawkins said on February 24th, 2011 at 5:30am #

    Mary I sleep at night but do get up early like 4am eastern

  8. Don Hawkins said on February 24th, 2011 at 8:55am #

    Just watching Fox New’s and the fair and balanced reporter had on a policy maker from Wisconsin that crossed the State line. Well the reporter said people find it weird that you people did this. The policy maker said we did this because the head of the highway patrol or State patrol is let’s just say well connected to the Governor. Weird is one way to put it and just who are these people how many that think it’s weird. Hurry more messages more messages.

  9. mary said on February 26th, 2011 at 11:52am #

    When the police join in, you know it’s catching on.

    {http://understory.ran.org/2011/02/25/breaking-wisconsin-police-have-joined-protest-inside-state-capitol/}

  10. Don Hawkins said on February 26th, 2011 at 2:51pm #

    Mary that’s big real big I think a first.

    From inside the Wisconsin State Capitol, RAN ally Ryan Harvey reports:
    “Hundreds of cops have just marched into the Wisconsin state capitol building to protest the anti-Union bill, to massive applause. They now join up to 600 people who are inside.”

    Ryan reported on his Facebook page earlier today:

    “Police have just announced to the crowds inside the occupied State Capitol of Wisconsin: ‘We have been ordered by the legislature to kick you all out at 4:00 today. But we know what’s right from wrong. We will not be kicking anyone out, in fact, we will be sleeping here with you!’ Unreal.”

    Real big maybe the dear old Governor will now call the guard. For me a whole new meaning to cheese heads. Labor and management and not very good management to say the least.