Wisconsin’s Spirit: Courage for Other States to Emulate – by Stephen Lendman
The issue is simple and straightforward – organized big money v. organized people essential to beat it. Since February 15, Wisconsin public workers, students, and supporters have sustained heroic resistance against corrupted dark forces determined to crush unionism there and across America. A previous article explained, accessed through the following link:
The scheme is old, dirty and ongoing – a conspiracy involving corporate bosses, federal, state and local Democrat and Republican leaders, and corrupted union heads to bust unions, effectively depriving workers of collective bargaining and other hard-won gains, returning them to 19th century harshness when they had none.
The battle lines are drawn. Across America, public and private worker rights are threatened unless mobilized resistance saves them. Governments at all levels are using dire economic conditions to make ordinary people bear the burden of recovering from the hardest times since the Great Depression. The solution is worse than the problem – the usual IMF diktat, including:
— wage and benefit cuts;
— less social spending;
— eliminating pensions and other entitlements;
— privatized state resources;
— mass layoffs;
— debt service superseding public need;
— lower taxes for corporations and America’s super-rich; and
— eroding hard won worker gains before eliminating them entirely.
In the 1980s, it was Reaganomics, trickle down and Thatcherism. In the 1990s, it was shock therapy. Today, it’s austerity to make workers pay for a Wall Street/Washington caused crisis – a Main Street Depression, leaving them struggling on their own to get by. Nonetheless, officials are capitalizing on crisis conditions to inflict more pain on the backs of already victimized people.
Causes of State Budget Shortfalls
Economist Jack Rasmus titled his latest article, “Why Public Employees Aren’t the Cause of States’ Budget Crises,” discussing five reasons behind them:
(1) A “lopsided (pseudo-recovery) from recession without jobs,” producing less tax revenues from remaining workers.
(2) Decades of counterproductive state policies to reduce taxes for business and investors, resulting in a revenue-producing “race to the bottom.”
(3) “(R)unaway health care costs” because predatory insurers, drug companies and giant hospital chains game the system for maximum profits in collusion with Washington.
(4) “(S)harply rising costs of borrowing by States in the municipal bond market, where (rates) have risen sharply due ultimately to the speculative excesses of the recent financial boom and bust.”
(5) Massive unfunded pension liabilities – a multi-trillion dollar future problem because of mismanagement, underfunding, speculation, bad investments, and criminal fraud, not out-of-control pay and benefits.
Republican and Democrat governors across America want workers to bear the burden through wage and benefit cuts as well as loss of collective bargaining rights at a time they’re more than ever needed.
Surviving Depends on Organizing, Struggling, and Resisting
Facing a $175 billion shortfall, governors across America are using the same script – help business and super-rich supporters with tax cuts, other benefits, and austerity for state employees when they need help, not cutbacks.
For 10 days, Wisconsin’s Republican GovernorScott Walker made headlines, demanding draconian harshness for public workers. Protests continue, including huge crowds expected this weekend, maintaining pressure for social justice against a governor told by Republican leaders, corporate bosses and funders to give none.
Senate Democrats haven’t returned. House ones introduced scores of amendments to stall and force debate ending in defeat along party lines. Preserving collective bargaining rights is central. Democrats agree with Republicans and union bosses on wage and benefit cuts up to $400 or more a month, besides furloughs and other concessions.
Ohio’s Republican Governor John Kasich proposes tougher measures than Wisconsin, promising to stay the course to enact them. Former Governor Ted Strickland, his predecessor, called his bill a “coordinated attack on the working class.”
A February 20 Cleveland Plain Dealer editorial headlined, “Rethink, repair public employee collective bargaining law,” saying:
“The state should not be in the business of dictating terms….of what should be collectively bargained (for in) local labor agreements. (It’s) unfortunate the GOP approach has been to set a maximalist tone on an issue that should be looked at carefully – before discarding a system” that’s stood the test of time for decades and should be preserved.
The proposed bill “is incontestably radical.” Instead, the current “debate should be, ‘Mend – don’t end,” and don’t make workers bear the burden for state shortfalls in lieu of more equitable solutions.
In Indiana, Republicans back a “right-to-work” bill, prohibiting union-employer agreements requiring workers join public or private sector unions and pay dues. As in Wisconsin, Democrats left the state to stop it. Thousands of workers rallied on Statehouse grounds. Republican Governor Mitch Daniels supported the bill conceptually, but on February 22 urged Republicans to drop it because it interferes with his agenda.
Michigan Republican Governor Rick Synder wants $180 million in state worker concessions through higher healthcare contributions and other benefit cuts.
Connecticut Democrat Governor Daniel Malloy demands more draconian cuts than Walker’s. He wants state workers to bear the brunt of the state’s $1 billion shortfall, amounting to an average $20,000 employee haircut annually in 2011 and 2012 through a combination of wage and benefit cuts. By comparison, Walker demands $300 million in savings.
New Hampshire’s Democrat Governor John Lynch wants 10% of state workers cut over the next two years, eliminating 1,100 jobs, as well as other proposed savings.
Colorado Democrat Governor John Hickenlooper wants the biggest K-12 education cut in state history. He also proposes hikes in state worker pension contributions, from 2.5 – 4.5%, and a third year with no pay increases.
In January, Democrat Governor Jerry Brown proposed far more draconian cuts than former Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger to resolve the state’s $24.5 billion shortfall. Included are large reductions in welfare, child healthcare, Medicaid, higher education, other public services, and state worker pay and benefits, including pensions. In addition, he wants six bargaining units to remain on three day per month furloughs at least through mid-year and likely longer.
Campaigning, Brown promised to “invest in jobs and the working families who make California strong.” As governor, he’s waging war against them.
So isn’t New York Democract Governor Andrew Cuomo, declaring the state “functionally bankrupt….there is no money, (so) painful choices” involve draconian cuts affecting working households most, including state employees bearing the burden like elsewhere.
Facing a $10 billion 2011 shortfall and an estimated $14 billion 2012 one, he wants 10% cuts for state agencies, requiring layoffs as well as comparable pay and benefit cuts. Healthcare and education are also targeted, including Medicaid. According to Daniel Sisto, Healthcare Association of New York State president, he wants “the largest cut to healthcare services in New York State’s history” with more planned ahead.
Demanding lower future labor costs, expect more layoffs besides 34,700 lost federal, state and local government jobs in 2010. With over $2 billion less 2011 New York city aid, 6,000 teacher jobs are at risk. Those remaining face draconian cuts on top of previous ones imposed and those from Albany.
At the same time, Cuomo pledged no tax increases on wealthy New Yorkers able to pay more. Moreover, he’ll let a so-called “millionaire’s tax” surcharge on earnings above $200,000 expire at year end, losing a badly needed $1 billion annually.
Presently, wage freezes are in effect for all state workers, pending contract negotiations expiring on March 31 in which he’s seeking $450 million in concessions.
Florida Governor Rick Scott wants state workers to pay 5% of their salaries for pensions and have their healthcare benefits capped, despite annual exponential cost increases workers will have to pay themselves. He also proposes 8,700 job cuts. In addition, legislation was introduced, requiring state workers sign up annually for union membership and prohibiting the current dues check off provision.
The Tennessee Republican-controlled legislature backs a bill to repeal a 1978 law, requiring collective bargaining in local school districts where most teachers support the Tennessee Education Association (TEA).
Idaho’s Tom Luna, Superintendent of Public Instruction wants 750 teachers cut and collective bargaining ended for issues like class size, workload and promotions. Legislative measures also propose ending tenure and seniority as factors affecting layoffs. As a result, angry teacher protests rallied in Boise and across the state.
In New Jersey, future presidential aspirant Republican Governor Chris Christie allied with Democrat Senate President Stephen Sweeney to make public workers pay more for healthcare and pension benefits.
They want healthcare contributions raised from 8 to 30% of costs. State payments for employee pensions will also be withheld for the second straight year unless benefits are sharply reduced by increasing the retirement age and ending cost-of-living adjustments.
A previous article addressed hard times in Illinois, facing the nation’s largest per capital shortfall. Access it through the following link:
As a result, taxes were raised, benefits cut, and more draconian measures are planned, affecting pay, healthcare, pensions and other ways to make state and private workers bear the burden of years of mismanagement, fraud, and corporate favoritism under Democrat and Republican-led governments.
A Final Comment
Strong unions in America face an existential struggle for survival, pitting worker rights against big money allied with all levels of government and union bosses, harming rank and file interests for their own privilege and self-enrichment.
As a result, workers are largely dependent on their own tenacity, resourcefulness, and courage to struggle for rights too precious to lose. It’s not solely a Wisconsin issue. All public and private workers across America are affected, their futures on the line against destructive dark forces essential to recognize, confront and defeat. The moment of truth is now.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.