Big Business Paid For Their Beds, Now Republicans Have to Lie in Them

 

 

by Walter Brasch

 

            Historian and satirist Thomas Carlyle said "a lie cannot live." However, Mark Twain casually remarked, "It shows that he did not know how to tell them."

            More than a century later, newly-elected Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-dominated Wisconsin legislature have proven themselves to be "quick studies," having learned how to tell whoppers about the working class and unions. Here are just a few.

 

            LIE: The public workers' pensions are what caused much of the financial crisis not just in Wisconsin but throughout the country. Gov. Walker has repeatedly said, "We're broke . . . We don't have any money."

            FACTS: Wisconsin had a $120 million surplus when Walker came into office in January. Had the newly-elected Republican-dominated Legislature in January not given about $140 million in special tax breaks (also known as "corporate welfare") to business, the state could have had a surplus, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. About two-thirds of all Wisconsin corporations pay no taxes at all, according to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.

             Wisconsin could also save significant expenses by having state-employed fiscal analysts, not Wall Street investment counselors, handle the entire pension investment portfolio. Wisconsin pays about $28 million to state managers to handle about half the portfolio; it pays about $195 million to Wall Street investment brokers to handle the other half, according to the 2010 annual report of the Wisconsin Investment Board.

            Noam Chomsky, in an interview with Amy Goodman of "Democracy Now," correctly points out, "the population in the United States is angry, frustrated, full of fear and irrational hatreds. And the folks not far from you on Wall Street are just doing fine. They’re the ones who created the current crisis." The Great Recession has cost states revenue, not because of the workers' salaries and pensions but because the values went down because of lax oversight primarily during a Republican administration. Even with the Wall Street crisis, and lower-than-expected revenue, the Wisconsin pension fund is fully funded, able to meet its obligation for several years, according to the independent PEW Center for the States.

            Columnist Robert Greenwald says the "shortfall" would be wiped out if Wisconsin brought home only 151 troops from the war in Afghanistan. If the U.S. left Afghanistan completely, the state would save $1.7 billion, according to Greenwald's analysis.

 

            LIE: The reason the Republicans throughout the country want to end collective bargaining by the public service unions is to bring fiscal responsibility to the states.

            TRUTH: In January 2010, the Supreme Court by a 5–4 decision along party lines declared that corporations enjoy the protection of the First Amendment. This meant that companies could increase funding and advertising for candidates. As expected, the Chamber of Commerce and corporate America gave vast amounts of money to Republican and conservative candidates; labor donated to liberal and Democratic candidates, who traditionally support the working class. In the 2010 mid-term election, seven of the top 10 donors contributed to conservative and Republican candidates. The other three in the Top 10 were labor political action committees. Eliminating collective bargaining for public sector workers would destroy the union movement and significantly reduce the influence of labor in campaigns. Walker has already shown his colors and intent when he was caught in a radio prank. On Feb. 23, Ian Murphy, editor of The Buffalo Beast, pretended to be billionaire David Koch, a supporter of far-right causes, and a major contributor to Walker's gubernatorial campaign. Punked by the 20-minute call, Walker seemed to be little more than a sycophant for Big Business. The Republicans' reaction? Instead of worrying about possible ethics violations by the governor, the Republicans planted a bill into the legislature to criminalize prank phone calls

 

            LIE: The unions are greedy and won't budge.

            FACTS: The 267,000 Wisconsin public sector workers, as well as all elected officials, Democrat and Republican, do pay very little to their pensions. However, the unions have already said they'd be willing to pay a higher contribution, essentially taking an 8 percent pay cut, and negotiate fairly other parts of the contracts. Gov. Walker not only refused to budge on his autocratic stand, he refused to take calls from elected Democrats and bluntly told the Milwaukee Journal, "I don't have anything to negotiate."

 

            LIE: Gov. Walker's proposal affects every union in Wisconsin.

            TRUTH: He exempted firefighters and police from his draconian assault upon unions, possibly because he was attempting to get support from the first responders, while mining sympathy from the public. What he didn't count on was that the firefighters and police unions are firm in their opposition to the abolishment of collective bargaining.

 

            LIE: Gov. Walker says he's just helping the worker when he argues for elimination of the "dues check-off," saying the workers would have more disposable income.

            TRUTH: Eliminating dues check-off would cripple unions, which would have to rely solely upon voluntary contributions.

 

            LIE: Gov. Walker enjoys wide-spread support for his stand against the unions.

            TRUTH: Walker has been governor less than two months. If the election were repeated, he'd receive only about 45 percent of the vote, according to the independent Public Policy Polling (PPP) of Raleigh, N.C. More important, while only 3 percent of Republicans voted for Tom Barratt, the Democratic candidate in the November election, 10 percent of the Republicans say they'd vote for him in a new election, according to PPP. The Republican governors of Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Indiana have said they will not follow Walker's lead, and will support the rights of public workers to bargain collectively. The massive protests in Wisconsin—more than 100,000 in Madison on the same day—and throughout the nation give evidence that Walker doesn't have the popularity he and his supporters believe. A New York Times/CBS poll, released March 1, indicates only about one-third of the nation supports the campaign against public sector collective bargaining. A week earlier, an independent USA Today/Gallup poll had almost the same results.

 

            LIE: The protestors are unruly, and should be arrested for violating the law.

            TRUTH: The First Amendment gives people the right to assemble peacefully. There have been no arrests because there have been no crimes committed by the protestors. Further, when the governor and the Legislature demanded that protestors be thrown out of the state capitol, and not allowed to stay overnight, the chief of the Capitol Police refused to do so, believing the order was a violation of Constitutional rights. In contrast, Walker had actually considered, and then rejected, the idea of planting troublemakers among the protestors—a "dirty trick" that dates back to the '60s.

 

            LIE: Public sector union workers are overpaid.  

            TRUTH: A USA Today analysis, published March 1, shows that, on average, public service workers, with wages and benefits included, are paid about $2,500 more per year than those in the private sector. In Wisconsin, the difference is only about $1,800. However, government workers usually are "older and substantially better educated than private sector workers," according to researchers Robert Pollin and Jeffrey Thompson, professors of economics at the University of Massachusetts. But, again contrary to the lies spewed by the anti-worker Rabid Right, individual union workers, when compared to the same criteria as private sector workers, actually earn 4 percent less income, according to the Center for Economic Policy Research. In Wisconsin, public sector union workers actually earn 4.8 percent less total compensation, according to research published in February by the Economic Policy Institute. One statistic stands out. "The average member of AFSCME, our largest public-sector union, earns less than $45,000 a year," says author/journalist Bill Press, "and retires after a career in public service with a whopping pension of $19,000 per year."

 

            LIE: Public service union workers are lazier than non-unionized private sector workers.

            TRUTH: Strong labor unions generally have higher productivity, according to independent research done by Harley Shaiken of the University of California, because there are not only better work conditions, but also a better-educated workforce, less turnover, and better communication between management and labor.

 

            [Walter Brasch, during a 40-year work career in mass communications has been a member of several unions, in both the private and public sectors. He is a syndicated newspaper columnist and the author of 16 books, including With Just Cause: Unionization of the American Journalist. He can be contacted at walterbrasch@gmail.com]

 

 

Weekly Audit: Police Defy Order to Clear Protesters from Wisconsin Capital

 

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

On Monday afternoon, the Capitol Police in Madison, Wisconsin refused to enforce an order to clear the Capitol building of hundreds of peaceful protesters who have been occupying the site to protest Governor Scott Walker’s plan to eliminate the collective bargaining rights of public employees.

Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! interviews State Rep. Kelda Helen Roys (D), who spent Sunday night in the Capitol building with other protesters. Roys describes what happened at four o’clock on Monday afternoon when the government gave the order to clear the protesters from the building:

And after several hours of the same sorts of scenes that we’ve been seeing all week—singing, chanting, drumming, speechifying—the Capitol police captain, Chief Tubbs, made an announcement, and he said that the protesters that had remained in the building, they were being orderly and responsible and peaceful and there was no reason to eject them from the Capitol.

Police attempted to clear the building of protesters on Sunday night, but they relented when the protesters refused to leave and allowed them to stay another night. On Monday, the police decided not to eject protesters already inside, but no additional activists would be allowed in. The governor plans to deliver his budget address on Tuesday afternoon. Walker is expected to call for spending cuts that could exceed $1 billion dollars.

Gov. Walker has threatened mass public sector layoffs if the Democratic senators do not return from Illinois by March 1. However, the Uptake.com reports that one of the absent legislators, State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, claims Walker is not telling the truth. Erpenbach says the unions have already agreed to come up with the money the governor needs to balance the budget, and therefore, he has no need to lay anyone off to bridge the gap.

Wisconsin 101

Matthew Rothschild of The Progressive describes the epic scale of the Wisconsin protests:

This is the largest sustained rally for the rights of public sector workers that this country has seen in decades — perhaps ever.

The crowds at the state Capitol have swelled from 10,000-65,000 during the first week all the way up to 100,000 on Feb. 26. Hundreds of people occupied the Capitol building with a sit-in and sleep-in for days on end, and total strangers from around the world ordered pizzas for them.

In case you’re still wondering what all of this means, Andy Kroll, Nick Baumann, and Siddhartha Mahanta of Mother Jones have joined forces to bring you this “Wisconsin 101″ primer.

The Republicans in the Wisconsin House passed a bill that would take away collective bargaining rights for public sector unions, restrict their ability to collect dues, and force them to undergo yearly recertification votes. But the bill cannot become law until the state Senate also passes it. Currently, 14 Democratic state senators are hiding out in Illinois to deprive the Republican majority of the quorum they need to vote on the bill. However, as Kroll notes, if only one Democrat breaks faith and returns to Madison, the Republicans will be able to pass the bill.

Nationwide solidarity

Jamilah King of Colorlines.com brings us a photo essay on the solidarity rallies held around the country over the weekend in support of the Wisconsin protesters. From San Francisco to Salt Lake City to Atlanta to New York, people took to the streets in support of the right of workers to organize. Also at Colorlines.com, historian Michael Honey draws parallels between the situation in Wisconsin and Dr. Martin Luther King’s last crusade. Shortly before his assassination, King stood with the sanitation workers of Memphis to demand collective bargaining rights and the power to collect union dues.

George Warner of Campus Progress profiles some young activists who took to the streets of Washington, D.C. to express their solidarity with the Wisconsin protesters. About 1,500 people came out to a rally in support of the protesters on Saturday.

Anonymous strikes again

In a bizarre twist, a loosely organized coalition of anarchic hackers known as “Anonymous” attacked websites linked to Koch Industries on Sunday, Jessica Pieklo reports for Care2.com. The Koch brothers are among Gov. Walker’s most generous benefactors. The hackers launched a distributed denial of service attack on the website of the Koch-funded conservative group Americans for Prosperity.

In addition to generous campaign contributions, the Koch brothers gave $1 million to the Republican Governors Association, which in turn paid for millions of dollars worth of ads against Walker’s opponent in 2010. Walker is evidently very grateful to Koch. Last week, a writer for a Buffalo-based website got Walker on the phone by pretending to be David Koch.

Don’t look now, but…

Meanwhile, in Indiana, the state assembly reconvened on Monday to find most of the 40 Democratic members had decamped for Illinois. The legislators are apparently taking a page from the Wisconsin playbook. Indiana’s Republican governor is trying to pass legislation that would make permanent a ban on collective bargaining by public sector workers and the Democratic legislators are seeking to deny him the 2/3rds quorum required to vote on the bill.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

GOP to Workers: "Why Should They Get What We Took Away From You?"

Was recently listening to the journalists on Slate's Political Gabfest pondering why union density is so much higher amongst public sector workers than the private sector. None of them mentioned the most important difference: It's harder for a government to get away with running a terror campaign against the union. There's more oversight and accountability to restrain public sector management from threatening workers for union activity, implying benefits to keeping out the union or danger with it, holding captive audience meetings against the union, or just firing union leaders. Only some of these tactics are even illegal. And bosses get away with those all the time. (Check out this reportfrom Human Rights Watch, or this one from Prof. Kate Bronfenbrenner). Consultants get very wealthy guiding companies on how to run fear campaigns against employees trying to organize. It's a lot harder for the TSA to cut anti-union consultants a check than it is for Wal-Mart. When it comes to organizing, the fundamental difference between public sector and private sector workers is that public sector workers have a better chance at organizing free from fear. So lots and lots of public sector workers do.

Right-wingers' desire to crush workers' freedom to organize and bargain collectively, whether public sector or private, is old news. But the zeal with which newly elected right-wing politicians are going after public employees is based in a sense of opportunity - one that comes not just from high unemployment or the media's deficit hysteria or GOP electoral gains but from the continuing decline in private sector union density. Republicans are emboldened to go after public sector workers organizing rights because so few private sector workers are organized.

(Resentment towards public sector workers can take on a gendered angle as well, as in some European countries where the public sector is significantly more female than the private sector, giving politicians an easy subtext to wield against public workers.)

If more private sector workers had the right to bargain for pensions, affordable healthcare, and a living wage, conservatives would see less purchase in high-profile fights to shred their rights and benefits for the janitors, firefighters, and teachers who work for us.

You see this in anecdotes like the one in a recent NYT piece where a woman says "I don’t get to bargain in my job, either." This is the chutzpah of the Right: They erode the right for private sector workers to organize for a voice in the conditions of their work and their benefits on the job. They go after all the programs that help people to get jobs or provide protections that don't depend on a job. They attack public education, deny us public healthcare, and deride public infrastructure. They push corporate-dominated "globalization" that privileges the flexibility of capital and further denies people around the world a voice in the conditions of their lives. They throw up barriers to the political participation of the non-rich. They enshrine the rights of bosses to fire without cause, outsource with impunity, escape taxes without consequence, punish pregnancy and lock workers inside buildings. Then, looking out across the wreckage they've created, they tell workers: "Why should that janitor be above the poverty line when your job sucks? Who do you know that has a pension these days?"

In other words, the push on those of us who reject the right-wing future, besides exposing their shell game, is to organize. We need to defend the human right to organize across industries, sectors and countries. And we need to strengthen it and exercise it. Goes without saying that Republican politicians have shown far more zeal about being part of the problem than Democratic ones have shown about being part of the solution.

There's not much future for the American labor movement without turning around the decline in private sector union density. And there's not much democracy if you spend half your waking life under dictatorship.

Where Unions Are Imperative

Its been a long time since I've been on MyDD, but its good to be back.  

The talk of the town these days seems to be unions, and Wisconsin is center stage.  Thats old news of course, just judging by the sheer amount of times the word "union" is mentioned on a single page alone here at MyDD.  Unfortunately, when the talk involves unions you will have those who want to throw them under the bus.  Many label union-members as "lazy" and "thuggish."  Sadly, this totally misrepresents the vast vast majority of them (there's a bad apple in every bunch, lets be honest).

Nothing gets under my skin quite as much as when the GOP brings up the subject of unions.  This may be a bit of a generalization, but I'll take the heat if any comes.  I'm biased and can't help it.  My family has been supported by a union for my entire life (21 years) and much longer.  It runs in our blood.

Naturally, I understand that with everything there are setbacks.  Unions have their drawbacks, theres no doubt.  At the end of the day however, we need collective bargaining for workers in this country.  Its a fundamental RIGHT that may not be explicitly stated in plain English for Republicans to read and comprehend, but its true.  

To better understand the situation, I  would like to offer a bit of a unique perspective to the importance of unions.  In case anyone has forgotten (or never knew in the first place), I am from West Virginia and have lived here my entire life.  The coal-mining industry is still thriving and powerful as ever (despite the departure of Don Blankenship).  

Take a look back to April of last year, when 29 miners lost their lives in a horrible explosion.  The mine was run by Massey Energy, a company notorious for not allowing unions or labor organization at all.  In fact, the CEO at the Time (Blankenship) was famous for union-busting.  

In the last five years, fatal accidents at three non-union West Virginia coal mines have resulted in 43 fatalities.

These deaths are causing some to question the safety records of mines where workers are not in the miner’s union.

"I think the obvious evidence in the last few years is that currently it’s more dangerous to work in non-union mines than union mines," he said.

Source: WV Pubcast

When workers aren't allowed to organize and collectively bargain, they lose any clout they have against a big corporation (in this case Massey) and are unable to refuse work because of poor working conditions.  Unions provide that kind of safety net.  They allow the laborers of this country to proudly stand together and not just be a number for a corporation, they are given a voice in a place where they would otherwise have none.

In the words of United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts (Paraphrased), the miners at the Upper Big Branch Mine should have had the right to say kiss my ass, I'm not working in these terrible conditions.

This is just one of many examples detailing just how important labor unions are.  We need them in this country.

 

Arizona, Wisconsin…Searching for freedom in a sea of hate

From the Restore Fairness blog-

Two months into the new year, it looks like the hateful and divisive rhetoric that marked 2010 is continuing to make it’s presence felt. Fueled by frustration over the economic situation, and by the changing racial and ethnic face of the country, ‘hate’ groups espousing extremist views on race, politics and culture are growing at an alarming rate. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s annual investigative report released on February 23rd, the number of hate groups in the country has topped 1000, more than have existed at any point in over 20 years.

A lot of the vitriol is directed at President Obama, who is often seen as a symbol of all that is “wrong” with the country. Any residue anger seems to be directed at minority groups, with a focus on the immigrant populationthat comprises a significant percentage of the country’s workforce. From previously existing mainly on the fringes of media and politics, this hate and resentment aimed at minorities has now decisively made its way into the mainstream, most visible in the political sphere in the form of countless bills that are being introduced around the country. In addition to the events currently taking place in Wisconsin, it is difficult to ignore the vast array of anti-immigrant legislation and enforcement measures that are on the cards at both the Federal and state levels.

The passage of SB1070 by Arizona’s Gov. Jan Brewer in April of last year set off a wave of harsh anti-immigrant laws that raise concerns of racial profiling and civil rights violations in various states around the country and pose a serious threat to basic American values. State legislative sessions across the country from California to Kentucky, Texas to Rhode Island have witnessed the introduction of immigration enforcement bills that have severe implications for racial profiling. On February 24th, Ohio introduced its own version of  Arizona’s SB1070 in a bill which permits local police officers to enforce federal immigration laws. A bill introduced in the Arkansas state legislature that would deny state benefits to undocumented immigrants except in emergencies was halted yesterday when a House committee voted against the bill by a small majority. On Tuesday , the Indiana Senate voted for a law to allow local police to question people stopped for infractions on their immigration status, in a bill that was similar to 2010′s SB1070.

While many states introduce harsh anti-immgrant laws, Arizona continues to stay two steps ahead of the others when it comes to advancing legislation that curtails basic rights and freedoms. The latest round of legislation that was cleared by the Appropriations Committee in the Arizona Senate on Wednesday illustrates this point best. In addition to SBs 1308 and 1309, the bills that undermine the 14th amendment’s birthright citizenship provision, was a package of immigration bills, led by Senator Russell Pearce (the author of SB1070), that curtail the rights of immigrants in the state of Arizona. These bills mandate that undocumented immigrants would be barred from receiving many public benefits, attending community collage, and be barred from driving motor vehicles and obtaining any state licenses including those required for marriage. The bills mandate that schoolchildren (k-12) would have to show proof of citizenship and run the risk of being reported to local police if there were undocumented, and that hospitals would be required to ask for proof of citizenship from patients demanding non-emergency care. Senator Russell Pearce defended his compendium of anti-immigrant legislation that he said was aimed at stopping the “invasion.” All the above laws were passed by the committee, and are now moving to the Senate floor for approval.

Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the A.C.L.U. of Arizona decried the new measures as working towards a “papers please” society. Speaking to the New York Times, she said-

This bill is miles beyond S.B. 1070 in terms of its potential to roll back the rights and fundamental freedoms of both citizens and noncitizens alike…

And while the bold announcement by the Obama administration and the Department of Justice that they would no longer defend the constitutionality of the the federal Defense of Marriage Act (that bans the recognition of same-sex marriage) comes as good news, the issue of immigration is looking bleak on the Federal level as well. Since the beginning of the 112th session of Congress, the Immigration Subcommittee of the House Judiciary committee has been pushing its strategy for mass deportation, referred to as ‘Attrition Through Enforcement.’ A few weeks ago, America’s Voice released a report exposing the background and strategybehind the Immigration Subcommittee’s current policy on immigration enforcement.

The report, collated by the America’s Voice Education Fund, “uncovers the origin of “attrition through enforcement”; its radical goal to achieve the mass removal of millions of immigrants; and the impact this proposal would have on both our economy and politics.” The report details how this approach, promoted by nativist groups and anti-immigrant hard-liners such as the Center for Immigration Studies, FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform) and Numbers USA, is packaged as a program aiming  to create jobs for Americans, but is designed to ramp up enforcement on state and federal levels with a view to forcing the 11 million undocumented immigrants out of the country, despite the monumental cost to taxpayers and the agriculture industry. On a press call mid February, Mark Potok, Director of the Intelligence Project at theSouthern Poverty Law Center; Fernand Amandi, Managing Partner of research organization, Bendixen & Amandi International; and Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, discussed the strategy of mass deportation and the risks that it poses for the political future of the GOP, for the future of race relations in the U.S., and for the economy.

This long list of events, laws and movements taking place around the nation are working to thwart positive change and drastically affect the values of freedom, equality and justice that are intrinsic to the spirit of this country. At such a time it is important that we look to people that are standing up for what is right, and learn from their example. Over the last week, tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in Wisconsin to demand that the government renew their commitment to the ‘American dream’ by valuing hard work instead of denying basic public services to those who are the most vulnerable. In a move to stand in solidarity with the people of Wisconsin and spread the “spirit of Madison” to the rest of the country, on Saturday, February 26, at noon local time, groups around the country are organizing rallies in front of every statehouse in all major cities.

Stand together to Save the American Dream. We are all Wisconsin, we are all Americans.

Photo courtesy of endoftheamericandream.com

Learn. Share. Act. Go to restorefairness.org

 

 

 

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