Plutocracy Today, Plutocracy Tomorrow, Plutocracy Forever: The Fight for Wisconsin
“Public employees should pay their fair share!” That’s what I am hearing in the general public about the situation in Wisconsin and I don’t think you will get any disagreement, even from public employees, about that statement. But what you must understand is that what is happening in Wisconsin has nothing to do with public employees paying their fair share or even balancing Wisconsin’s budget. Whatever Governor Walker’s motivations, concern for the immediate fiscal health of his state is not one of them. How can you tell?
1. There was no budget deficit until Walker came into office. Indeed there was a budget surplus. The current deficit is a direct result of Walker’s actions since he became governor, employee benefits have nothing to do with the current “crisis.”
2. The unions in Wisconsin have offered to work with the legislature and give in to every financial demand of Governor Walker. And yet the Republican’s in Wisconsin are saying, “no compromises.” If your stated motivation is balancing the budget and your opponents offer to give you everything you need to balance the budget and you still refuse to accept their offer, well then it’s safe to say that you have motivations that go beyond simply balancing the budget.
3. Wisconsin public employees are not over-compensated. Here is what the Economic Policy Institute had to say about the levels of compensation in Wisconsin after studying the data (something that you can be sure almost no opponent of public employee unions has done),
However, the data indicates that state and local government employees in Wisconsin are not overpaid. Comparisons controlling for education, experience, organizational size, gender, race, ethnicity, citizenship, and disability reveal that employees of both state and local governments in Wisconsin earn less than comparable private sector employees. On an annual basis, full-time state and local government employees in Wisconsin are undercompensated by 8.2% compared with otherwise similar private sector workers.
4. Walker is exempting from his sweeping changes unions who supported him in the 2010 election. If you believe that public employee unions are destroying Wisconsin, as Walker apparently does, then a decision to exempt any public employee unions seems curious. That these unions are political allies makes the decision less curious but no more justified.
Although Governor Walker argues that public employees are bankrupting Wisconsin and that only the most draconian actions can save the state, we know for a fact that the budget was running a surplus until Walker became governor, that the unions are willing to give in to the economic demands of Walker and the Republicans, that these employees are not overcompensated, and that Walker has decided to exempt politically friendly unions from his sweeping demands. It’s obvious that Governor Walker has ulterior motives here – he wants to eliminate not just public employee unions but land a fatal blow to unions in general. Why?
conservatives will take whatever chance they can to rein [unions] in, regulate them, make it nearly impossible for them to organize new workplaces. But they also routinely argue that labor unions simply shouldn’t exist. This is what’s happening in Wisconsin: Gov. Scott Walker isn’t satisfied with merely negotiating concessions from public sector unions. He wants to effectively ban collective bargaining and all but do away with public sector unions completely.
Nobody should buy this. Of course unions have pathologies. Every big human institution does. And anyone who thinks they’re on the wrong side of an issue should fight it out with them. But unions are also the only large-scale movement left in America that persistently acts as a countervailing power against corporate power. They’re the only large-scale movement left that persistently acts in the economic interests of the middle class.
So sure: go ahead and fight the teachers unions on charter schools. Go ahead and insist that public sector unions in Wisconsin need to take pay and benefit cuts if that’s what you believe. Go ahead and rail against Davis-Bacon. It’s a free country.
But the decline of unions over the past few decades has left corporations and the rich with essentially no powerful opposition. No matter what doubts you might have about unions and their role in the economy, never forget that destroying them destroys the only real organized check on the power of the business community in America. If the last 30 years haven’t made that clear, I don’t know what will.
Private sector unionization is down to about 7% of all workers, the public sector remains strong at about 36%. With private sector unions almost all but destroyed conservatives have turned their attention to the public employee unions. If they destroy the public employee unions they will eliminate a large source of funding and energy for the union movement and, not coincidentally, for the Democratic Party.
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