Rough Times Ahead

The Koch boys won in Wisconsin and in the other places where they have been spreading their financial poison, planting paid operatives, and electing their puppets. The boys now own Wisconsin just as they have owned Scott Walker all along. The same game plan is underway in New Mexico via their friendly governor and in other states as well – money being the universal grease of political corruption particularly when it is in service to a social agenda. Mr. Walker received $63.5 million in funding from sources outside Wisconsin.

In the case of Wisconsin we also have to wonder about people voting against their own best interests, against their own social class, their neighbors, their public servants. Why? Among other factors, many Wisconsin citizens opposed the idea of a recall as though it was somehow un-American when in reality recall is an elegant expression of the very idea of American social democracy. This aversion was cleverly exploited by Walker and his backers among whom I count ALEC and the US Supreme Court with its fatuous anti-democracy Citizens United decision.

The Walker recall was rejected by a large number of working and middle-class Wisconsinites who no doubt had their own situations on their minds. In the US the term “middle-class” is in the process of being redefined downward. As recently reported by the Federal Reserve, the net worth of American middle-class families has now declined to 1990 levels. Walker exploited middle-class America’s financial desperation by demonizing labor unions particularly those representing public-sector workers like teachers depicting them as having health benefits and pensions paid for by taxpayers who are themselves doing without. The Republican presidential candidate, Romney, in a Marie Antoinette let them eat cake moment, summarized the “message of Wisconsin” as, America can do with fewer teachers, police, and firefighters. This, you can be certain, will be the theme, the neo-conservative game plan going into the 2012 elections, because it resonates with a diminished middle-class looking for answers to it’s own plight. Needless to say I suppose is that neither Romney himself nor his kids ever attended a public school.

Rough times lie ahead for intelligent caring people – especially for people who work for a living, and not just in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin outcome is going to embolden others like Indiana governor Mitch Daniels, who in a post-Wisconsin election interview on Fox “News” (there’s an oxymoron for you) stated that public sector unions are past their prime and should be abolished. Unions, private and public-sector, are in decline and, thus, in neo-conservative cross-hairs. Union membership has declined from 40% of American workers in the 1950s to 12% today. In the upcoming general election the Wisconsin story could easily be repeated across the country. What happened in Wisconsin in a nutshell was a general vote against unions by people who perceived union members getting a disproportionate share of public money in pay and benefits. Of course those who voted against the unions will ultimately share the losses caused by their vindictiveness in one way or another.

Pressure to limit wages and benefits are in place courtesy of ambitious politicians in hock to moneyed interests who will benefit from paying low wages and abolishing employee benefits. Young people who want a college education will be in for a lifetime of being in debt if they manage to graduate from the privatized public schools which are also a part of the conservative agenda. Among the other casualties will be labor unions which are already on the ropes, not just because the Kochs and their cohorts have been targeting them but because most Americans are indifferent and in some cases antagonistic.

Antagonism towards unions is of two sources, one being the unrelenting propaganda from the right as was demonstrated in Wisconsin. The campaign against working people and organized labor has had a long and oftentimes violent history as for example the Pullman Strike of 1894 which resulted in 13 workers killed, 57 wounded, and eventually put down by 12,000 federal troops. The other source of today’s antagonism is an apparent lack of critical awareness on the left. Children born into union families when unions were at their strongest – children whose college educations were made possible by their parent’s union membership – do not themselves identify with unions, seeing unions as antiquated, irrelevant, and with an “On The Waterfront” animus. Unions have failed to continually make their case even, apparently, to their own children.

If the general population believes labor unions are irrelevant unions have only themselves to blame and only they can right that perception and they must. In the Wisconsin recall election exit polls found that even family members of union workers voted for Walker. Walker didn’t win so much as organized labor lost and that, dear readers, was just the beginning. Rough times ahead.

This essay first appeared at: Grassrootspress and Light of New Mexico

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