Monday, February 21, 2011

GOP agenda destroys middle class

The right to form a union is an American value. The right to form a union is critical to a democratic society because it is the only way to assure that employers do not treat their employees as commodities. The fight in Wisconsin is not about the money. The battle of public employees for their rights in Wisconsin is about fairness, the preservation and expansion of the middle class and keeping the American Dream alive. To the extent that Wisconsin has a budget deficit, it is a problem of the Governor's own making, thanks to tax breaks he just gave to corporations. And he wants the states public workers to pay for it.

The workers have already indicated their willingness to negotiate by accepting the increases in their healthcare and retirement contributions (basically, a pay cut) if the Governor would be willing to not take away their right to bargain for better wages and benefits at some point down the road. But the Governor will not budge – he continues to choose his ideological agenda over the people of Wisconsin.

Today, union membership is down, unemployment is up and the current generation of young people is the first in years to expect that they won't be as well off as their parents. Enter Governor Scott Walker, Speaker of the U.S. House John Boehner, Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan and the rest of the Republicans who want an America run by and for the big corporations. Their agenda is to downsize government to dangerous levels, dismantle the public programs that keep our families safe and our communities strong, export our jobs overseas to increase corporate profits and fill their own pockets, and concentrate the nation's wealth and power into fewer and fewer hands.

These politicians are owned and operated by a powerful corporations and billionaires like the infamous Koch Brothers, who fund many right-wing front groups such as FreedomWorks, who sent people to Madison from across the country this weekend to stage counter-protests.

These politicians and organizations are part of a nationwide effort to take away collective bargaining. They are also trying to take away the important cost-saving benefits and consumer protections of the Affordable Care Act. And they want:

• Social Security to be privatized and eliminate Medicare as we know it – which will effectively kill Grandma, a point they shouted about during the healthcare debate. (They did not really care about Grandma.)
• A government that is so small, it will starve the poor, shrink the middle class, and eliminate small businesses.
• Tell you that if you become a vegetable, you have to be kept alive on machines.
• A government that looks the other way when oil companies recklessly drill offshore and mining firms operate without regard for the health and safety of their workers.
• And a government with enough power to tell a woman, her doctor and her family what to do about private healthcare decisions – basically take away the right of a woman to have an abortion if her life is in danger. 

We all do better when we all do better. 

Democrats and unions believe that work should be rewarded and workers treated with dignity and respect. They believe in an America where there is opportunity for everyone to achieve their potential and have fulfilling lives, including a secure retirement. We also believe in a robust government that does things that the people cannot do individually for ourselves to improve our quality of life. They believe in pitching in and helping each other out.

The Republicans and their corporate sponsors believe in every man for himself – the "you're on your own" theory of government and life. If you are not well off financially, they believe it is your own fault. They also do not believe corporations, businesses, etc, should be required to give any benefits, such as retirement and healthcare, to the workers. These filthy rich do not want to support their government, or their schools, or their public workers.

In other words, Republicans would like to take us back to the 19th and early 20th centuries where workers had no benefits and no rights – where the wealthy had all the power and all the rights.

As the New York Times explains, "In a year when governors across the country are competing to show who is toughest, no matter what the consequences, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin stands out as the first to bring his State Capitol to a halt." Like many governors, he wants to cut the benefits of state workers. But the Wisconsin Governor's plan goes further, he wants to take away the collective bargaining rights of public employees – which would have no impact on the state budget. They would be barred from bargaining about anything except wages, and any pay increase they win would be limited by the consumer price index. Contracts would be limited to a year, and union dues could no longer be deducted from paychecks. Gov. Walker’s goal is to destroy the workers’ union. 

In the face of a vicious Republican and corporate assault on the ability of workers to negotiate for a better life, Wisconsin's workers are fighting back. They are standing up for their right to collectively bargain and they are standing up for all of us. The tenacity, courage and commitment of the protesters have been extraordinary. The community support the workers have received has been inspiring. The people of Wisconsin are making history by drawing a serious line in the sand against unbridled corporate power and Republican extremism.

At the bargaining table, the ballot box, in the halls of Congress, and wherever important policy decisions are made, unions have fought for greater opportunity and shared prosperity, for the real American dream.

Throughout our nation's history, workers and their unions have fought for better wages, benefits and scores of trailblazing workplace improvements. In the post World War II era, unionized jobs with good pay and decent health care and retirement benefits helped create and expand America's middle class. It was the promise of America: If you worked hard and played by the rules, you could get ahead. And your kids could do even better. That promise – the American Dream – has been made possible by the strength of the American labor movement and the sacrifices of countless workers and their families.

It is these different views that the battle in Wisconsin is about, beginning with worker's most basic rights. That is why teachers, correction officers, firefighters, nurses, administrative assistants, sanitation workers, social workers and so many others have banded together like never before.

Wisconsin is ground zero. If the Republicans succeed in Wisconsin, the birthplace of A.F.S.C.M.E., they will be emboldened to attack workers' rights in every state. Workers – including professional teachers, state troopers, nurses, etc, – will once again become servants and slave labor.