Monday, February 28, 2011

Many public workers heading for the door

It is becoming obvious that one of the immediate impacts of the Scott Walker power move against unions is that the state is about to lose the skills and experience of thousands of its most veteran public sector workers. Many of them face a decision to retire right now in order to get the full benefits of the pensions promised them over the course of their careers.  If they wait to see what happens to the budget debate over the next months, they could end up losing big money for their retirement.

But even this won't guarantee that pension funds won't be raided over time, as the Alternet article linked here indicates. And as Walker & Co. (like the groups funded by the Koch brothers who are stoking anti-union sentiments all across the country) continue their media assault on labor, the flames of resentment among private sector workers who have lost jobs or seen wages and benefits fall as a result of corporate power plays (you know, the take-it-or-leave-it approach to labor negotiations - take what we offer as we gut your livelihood or we'll move to Oklahoma or Mexico) are bound to rise. Folks like the Kochs and their Club for Growth buddies will be happy to fan those flames because it works so well... you can see today if you read the 'letters to the editors' page in the seemingly anti-union Journal Sentinel.

Doesn't matter if you say that these angry folks going on and on about communists and socialists (say what?!?!?) and privileged lazy public workers have got it all wrong, that they don't know who the real 'enemy' is or why, really, their standard of living is sinking into the burgeoning class of working poor. The corporate guys with all the money and power are very happy to see us turn on one another in a blame game that has no good outcome.

You know, you can let Walker try to rule like that - or not.

But my challenge to public sector workers and their unions is this: taxpayers do indeed pay your salaries and finance your benefits, and private sector workers, especially those without college degrees, are getting hurt in a global economy that has less and less room for them - and no concern for them at all. If you want to maintain and build support for the cause of worker rights, it is crucial that you begin active, persistent, constructive solidarity with private sector workers. They are not up against elected officials that we voters can turn out of office. They are up against companies that operate solely for the bottom line and have no democracy at all, only a commitment to quarterly profit reports for their stockholders.

It is time for a massive reeducation in this state in regard to labor history and the decades-long struggle for worker rights, of why collective bargaining is crucial in a democracy. What it does is balance the power of corporate money with the power of organized labor. Without that, each worker is at the mercy of these powerful bosses.

Solidarity is the only way out of this mess. Many of us who are not public sector workers have been out in support of the folks in the rotunda and on the streets of Madison. The support must go both ways, otherwise this struggle for worker rights cannot be won.

Photos: Margaret Swedish

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