Posts Tagged 'Trade Unions'

The American Taliban

The recent news story (7/9/12) about the Taliban executing a young Afghan woman was revolting. The woman was shown in the accompanying video seated on the ground as the executioner fired his Kalashnikov nine times into her back. Aside from the abject cowardliness of the executioner and his colleagues, there was a crowd of about 100 villagers sitting on a nearby hillside cheering. No matter what her offense, it was a brutal event. A person’s life was taken in a direct and brutish manner, a despicable violation of human decency and civilized behavior.

In the US we don’t drag people into the streets and shoot them (yet). What we do is deny them health care, unemployment benefits, food stamps, living wages, and access to the political process on an equal footing with the wealthy via the Citizens United decision.

In the state of mind that is the State of Texas there are some 6.2 million people without health insurance. The Republican governor, Rick Perry, has rejected expansion of Medicaid and the creation of a health care insurance exchange. Consider that those 6.2 million people represent nearly a quarter of the population of Texas. This brings to mind the cheering at a Republican primary debate last year when a candidate explained that an ill person with no health insurance could die. Brutish, inhumane, and uncivilized behavior? You bet it is.

Texas Republicans recently revealed a key plank of their platform for the upcoming elections, their opposition to teaching critical thinking skills in public schools. This is unsurprising of course when your purpose is to create a stupidized general population that will go along with denying health care to poor people and other similar dehumanizing policies. What we have here is a Republican Tea Party agenda to de-legitimize the idea of community—to undermine and ultimately destroy the civil society. Following the Texas model, they want to create a gun-toting, everyone-for-themselves, don’t-tread-on-me world. They, like the Taliban, are anti-social, un-American, and they are dangerous sociopaths.

While philosophers like Max Weber and Marcel Gauchet thought that religion was the main influence on the development of Western social contracts, that influence is now distorted and deformed; it has become a weapon. The new religious influences on the social contract are exemplified by popular Christian preachers with national audiences, one of whom, in the solemn presence of Republican Presidential hopeful, Rick Santorum, screamed that all immigrants should be sent back to where they came from. The other called for a national policy to create internment camps for homosexuals. Catholic bishops have been stiffed by US Congressmen professing the same faith as theirs because bishops forfeited their moral authority covering for child-abusing priests. Religion is no longer the humanizing influence it once was and has become, more than ever, polarizing, compartmentalizing, and more importantly, hypocritical.

Women are also under attack. Georgia Republican state legislator, Terry England, supported a bill to force women to carry a still-born or dying fetus to term because cows and pigs do, he said, so why not women. Tea Party activists cheering at the death of the elderly and the infirm, represent the new social contract. The Republican conservative-dominated U.S. Supreme Court that defines corporations as people with equal rights as human beings rends the fabric of rationality as well as the social contract. Money talks in America, and if you don’t have it you are mute, and your constitutional rights, just like your mortgage, have been foreclosed by big money. If you are not rich you exist to provide votes for whichever party can scare you the most about your fellow Americans. Capitalist cannibalism and nihilism are the new social contract replacing community, shared values, and common interest. Trade unions are being marginalized by politicians, business interests and their own inability to see a bigger picture than their internecine politics. In the mid-1950s close to 40 percent of American workers were covered by union contracts; today only 12 percent are. In the recent gubernatorial recall election in Wisconsin union members voted against the union-endorsed candidate.

Public-sector unions are being attacked and eviscerated, not just by Republican governors but by Democrats as well. Eleven Democrat governors are blaming public-sector unions for budget deficits, demanding wage and benefit concessions. In all of that, neither the governors nor the affected unions have effectively pointed out the predatory role of big banks and the recession they caused. At this moment in time, corporate profits are at an all-time high and wages, calculated as a percent of the economy, are at an all-time low.

In Colorado Springs, the location of recent wildfires, public employees had been laid off or their jobs eliminated by elected officials who took Grover Norquist’s no new taxes pledge and rejected property tax increases. With the ranks of firefighters and police reduced, the city had 39 fewer firefighters and 50 fewer policemen to face the crisis. A few years ago the city even had to turn off a third of the town’s street lights. Many homes that weren’t consumed by the fire were looted or vandalized and dozens of automobiles broken into. The classic irony is that in the aftermath the city has shamelessly applied for Federal grants and aid. Where’s Grover? Maybe he has some ideas on how to reconcile this contradiction.

In the past few days it was revealed that traders at JPMorgan-Chase lost approximately $5.8 billion in bad gambles. How many firemen, cops, teachers, health clinics, and other more humane possibilities would that bundle have paid for? In the meantime the Republican Taliban, with public support, are going after the poor and disadvantaged; they are rampant and smelling victory.

This post first appeared at: http://www.grass-roots-press.com/

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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