Skyline of Richmond, Virginia

The Great Upheaval

02.25.11

The Great Upheaval
By Lorenzo A. Canizares
2/21/11

To understand what is meant by “The Great Upheaval” is important to provide some pertinent facts. We need to realize that there is a dichotomy amongst the American people in how we experience the reality around us. Regular common people that have been lucky enough not to have had to deal with losing a job or being discriminated because of race, gender, sexual preference or religion trying to understand what’s happening in America today, can become difficult especially if they have been mainly just paying attention to daily living.

As we are seeing, most states are going through an attempt to change the reality that Americans live in. Those with jobs, as teachers and state workers that might have been oblivious to the pain being suffered by those that have lost jobs and benefits in the private sector, are getting to know now how it feels. The people doing the deciding are ruthless in their disregard for the popular will or well-being. For example, Charles M. Blow mentions in his NYT column of 2/12/11 that Republicans in New Hampshire have filed bills to overturn the state’s same-sex marriage law, even though, according to a recent WMUR Granite State Poll, the state’s residents want to leave the law in place by a majority of more than 2 to 1. Who cares about being concerned about what constituents want?

The above example of disregard for the popular will is assisted by the corporate stranglehold that exists in our political life. The Supreme Court through their decision in Citizens United has opened the floodgates to corporate money overwhelming our democracy. Conservatives use a committed group of cadres that through the pretext of social issues push for economic policies that will benefit the Greedy Rich. The excuse of fiscal responsibility is widely used a justification to attain the political goals that the Greedy Rich are after. Notice, as in Wisconsin, dismantling of labor unions is the goal under the banner of fiscal responsibility while promoting tax cuts for the verywealthy, tax cuts that will deepen the deficit even further. As the headlines of the newspaper Roll Call said in its July 18 edition “Senate Republican Leader Mitch Mc Connell blasts deficit spending, urges extension of tax cuts.” The monies behind the Citizens United decision allow this utterly ridiculous statement to acquire political legitimacy! To make it a double dosage of hypocrisy, McConnell also considers defense spending to be sacrosanct.

The Democratic Party could have not been more compliant in the last Congress. We have seen Democrats watering down legislation one after another trying to gain the cooperation of Republicans. Take the Health Care bill as an example, the Democrats through compromise watered down the bill, but even that watered down bill that if implemented could have been a windfall for health insurance corporations is being rejected because the goal is to defeat Obama. Can anybody be so witless not to understand what Republicans are trying to do? After such a barrage of verbiage regarding jobs, jobs, jobs they are forcing the nation to revive the health care wars, all with the intent of defeating Obama in 2012, as McConnell has let us know to be the goal. Isn’t it coincidental that several Republican Governors have refused government monies to deal with infrastructure reforms that would have produced hundreds of thousands of good paying jobs throughout the country?

A major part of the “Great Upheaval” is what the lap-dogs of the Greed Rich have been able to come up with just to make sure that we understand the power that they have over us. What’s more clear than what E.J. Montini, a widely read Arizona Republic columnist, description of Arizona’s Governor and Republican legislators as a “death panel” that has originally condemned 98 Arizonans to death because it’s not cost effective to provide them organ transplants. Two has already died. Republicans do run effective death panels!

But, nothing is a more clear indication of the “Great Upheaval” than what’s going on in Wisconsin. Governor Walker intent is to destroy the unions, to destroy what brought the American working class into the middle class, and to destroy the societal cushion that was the base of America’s prosperity. Governor Walker’s plan would limit collective bargaining for most state and local government employees to wages, leaving issues like benefits and work conditions to their respective employer’s whims. It would require workers to contribute more to their pensions and health care, limit wage increases to a cap based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI), and limit contracts to one year. It would require unions to take annual votes to maintain certification while also permitting workers to stop paying union dues.

These are just a few examples of what the Greedy Rich have done in their attempt to maximize profits coming their way. Notice we have not talked about wars, Wall Street, the Mortgage crisis, etc. But, we can be certain now that we have arrived to the point that those who don’t see it, is because they just don’t want to see it.

The “Great Upheaval” is about to unravel.

Ironically, Anti-Union Republicans Need Unions

02.25.11

by Walter Brasch

There are a lot of ironies in the Wisconsin fight between the Republican-dominated legislature and the working class.

On Tuesday, Feb. 22, the State Senate unanimously passed a resolution to honor the Green Bay Packers for winning the Super Bowl. Every one of the players is a member of a union.

Of course, only the 19 Republicans in the chamber voted for the resolution; the 14 Democratic senators, co-sponsors of the resolution, were in Illinois. They were in the neighboring state because newly-elected Gov. Scott Walker, supported by Big Business, the Tea Party, and far-right conservatives, had ordered the unionized state police to bring every Democratic senator into the capitol in order to assure a quorum. Needing one more member, the Senate couldn’t pass any fiscal legislation.

Walker and the legislature thought they could ram through a union-busting measure, disguising it under a cloak of balancing the state budget. All they needed were 20 senators—19 Republicans and, for that elusive quorum, one Democrat, even if he or she voted against the bill. The only reason the state had a deficit, they lied, was because of union wages and benefits.

The unions had already said they would accept what amounts to an 8 percent cut. But, Walker, acting more like a caricature of a Fat Cat Boss, refused to negotiate. His demands, if put into law, would essentially “gut” public worker unions.

For two weeks, beginning Feb. 14, thousands of government workers and their supporters came to Madison to defend unions and collective bargaining. At its peak, more than 70,000 were in the streets of the state’s larger cities. One of those protestors was all-pro cornerback Charles Woodson, the Packers’ co-captain, one of those honored by the Legislature. Woodson, strong in his condemnation of the governor and Legislature, said he was honored “to stand together with working families of Wisconsin and organized labor [who were] under an unprecedented attack to take away their basic rights to have a voice and collectively bargain at work.”

There are more ironies.

Thousands of anti-union voices have cried out that they don’t need unions. However, even the most rabid anti-union reactionary has benefitted from labor’s push for a 40 hour work week, overtime, better working conditions, the enactment of rigorous child labor laws, and basic benefits, including vacation time and sick leave.

Unions also led the push to create the National Labor Relations Board, which gives further worker protections, while restricting excesses, both by unions and employers; and the Davis–Bacon Act, which requires all private contractors on federal projects to pay wages equivalent to what union workers would earn, even if their own companies are not unionized. The “prevailing doctrine” has led to better wages and employee training in the construction industry, according to labor historian Rosemary Brasch.

Unions were primarily responsible for creating the rise of the middle class, thus elevating the poor, marginalized, and disenfranchised. With weaker unions, says economist Richard Freeman, “the U.S. will be slower in developing policies to help the disadvantaged and poor . . . and to protect consumers, workers, and shareholders from business crime and dishonesty.” All social programs, according to writer/activist Harvey Wasserman “can trace their roots to union activism, as can the protection of our civil liberties.” Strong labor unions generally have higher productivity, according to independent research done by Harley Shalen of the University of California, because there is “less turnover, better worker communication, better working conditions, and a better-educated workforce.” Further, merely the threat of unionization at a company usually leads to improved work conditions as employers, using extraordinary means to impose anti-union bias into their companies, nevertheless, will improve the lives of their workers solely to avoid collective bargaining and union benefits.

Anti-union rhetoric also leads people to believe that the generous health benefits that governments give to unionized workers has led to the current financial problems, all of which are absorbed by the taxpayers. But, the truth reveals another irony. Better health benefits actually result in lower costs to the taxpayers. Most of the 50 million uninsured are members of working families, and have lower incomes, making them eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), funded by taxpayers. Unable to pay even the co-insurance costs, low-income workers usually use medical facilities only when there are critical problems, thus jeopardizing their own health, and resulting in less productivity and more long term care, all paid by public programs. Uninsured patients also pay more for health care, and are more likely to stay impoverished because of health costs, according to recent studies by the Kaiser Foundation on Medicaid and the Uninsured. Medicaid payments in 2008 were about $204 billion.

And in the ultimate irony, Rush Limbaugh, who called union workers “bottom-feeding freeloaders,” Glenn Beck, who miraculously linked trade unionism with Communists, socialists, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the United Nations, and numerous other conservative commentators are all members of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), an AFL-CIO union.

[Next Week: Lies and the truth in Wisconsin. Walter Brasch, an award-winning journalist, is author of 16 books, including With Just Cause: Unionization of the American Journalist. He has been a member of several unions, including The Newspaper Guild, Communications Workers of America, International Association of Machinists, the United Auto Workers, the Association of State College and University Faculty, and three in the entertainment industry. You may contact Dr. Brasch at walterbrasch@gmail.com]