Thursday, February 17, 2011

Now we see the great divide

Gov Walker and Republican state legislators have certainly helped to do one important thing - to surface the great cultural divide in my state.

* Solidarity v. fierce individualism

* Workers v. corporate powers

* Cutting taxes as an ideology v. a strong social safety net based on a sense of shared responsibility

* Government as outside monster v. government as a service to its people

* Government as guarantor of private business and wealth generation v. government as guarantor of rights and fairness

* Leave me alone! v. we are all in this together

It doesn't have to be this way. What we are seeing now in the public sector in this state we saw in recent years in the private sector - a divide-and-conquer strategy. Threaten to move a plant out of the state to force workers into huge wage and benefits concessions. Threaten massive layoffs of public workers if they don't accept being stripped of collective bargaining rights. Worse, there is a calculated campaign to drive a wedge between the unemployed or workers seeing their wages fall and benefits disappear, and public sector workers who still have jobs and benefits.

It's an old, tired, anti-people strategy - breakdown solidarity among workers, make them feel like the unions are the enemy, rather than the bosses who are trying to remake the workforce to their benefit.

What in the world happened to our once-inspiring pro-labor culture here, to our sense of pride in what workers built here?  This city was built on the labor of my ancestors, my uncles, my cousins, musicians who worked for my father - all of whom had access to decent well-paid work and benefits because of unions, who had clout in setting work rules (like the 40 hour work week, overtime pay, safe factories, grievance procedures, and more) and from all of that were able to own a house, raise their kids, send them to good public schools, etc., etc. - because of unions, because of organized labor fighting for their rights.

The powers-that-be say we can't afford this anymore, but before we rush to that judgment, take a look at what is happening to the earnings of the already wealthy, to the soaring Wall Street companies. Read articles in the business news about how many corporations are awash in cash but not hiring - because they don't need to do that to make money anymore.

Then check out how many of the wealthy pay little or no state taxes at all (Chris Abele being among them) because tax rules are stacked in their favor. And here, while you're at it, study this document and its many graphs indicating how the top 1% in the US own 34.6% of all privately held wealth while the bottom 80% owns just 15% of all wealth.  This is a staggering divide and something to keep in mind when the anti-tax rhetoric is soaring across the airwaves.

One thing you won't hear our governor talk about is how revenue could be raised to help meet the needs of our people. That actually could be done. But if you think public service is a cancer on the body politic rather than a service - educating our kids, answering the phone when you call 911, plowing snow during and after a blizzard, picking up the garbage, processing marriage certificates and birth records, staffing courtrooms and public health centers - if you think all these public sector workers are sitting with their feet up on desks raking in the dough and not working very hard, then you think Scott Walker a hero.

He is not. And if he gets to run the show here, this state is headed for real trouble.

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