Socially Speaking's Blog
The Other Side of the Tracks blog by Word Press

Asleep At the Wheel

The Other Side of the Tracks: A Socially Speaking commentary

March 1, 2010

By Perry Redd

In light of the recent protests in Wisconsin over their Republican governor, Scott Walker, trying to strip the teachers of their hard-earned, longtime right to negotiate the terms of their contract, we must be real and look at the larger picture.  The vast numbers of those fighting for the just cause is impressive; a reaction to an adverse action against them.  This is “the American Way.”  But upon closer examination, we have to ask, “why the reparative tactics?”  Why should Wisconsin have to mobilize 70, 000 supporters of workers rights when they should never have had to defend them at all?  It’s because the working class of Wisconsin sat on their hands on Election Day.

What I want to know is where were you at election time?  Now, you have to play catch-up.  Governor Walker is now executing the dream of fiscal conservatives: destroy the unions.  I hear political pundits scream that he won a mandate to do just what he’s doing.  No, I don’t think so…Walker won election in November 2010 with 52% to 46% of the vote.   That means that just under half the voters of Wisconsin didn’t want what he was selling.  Nothing overwhelming there.

Thousands of teachers, nurses, firefighters and other public sector workers camped out at the Wisconsin Capitol for weeks, protesting Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s efforts to reduce their take-home pay — by increasing their contribution to their pension plans and health care benefits — and eliminate their collective bargaining rights.  Yes…eliminate!  The argument from the Right is “there is no right to collectively bargain in the Constitution.”  Gov. Haley Barbour (R-La) said that very thing on NBC’s Sunday talk show directly to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumpka.  All I could think was, “there’s no right to inherit your parent’s money when they die in the Constitution either, but Republicans sure defend that!”

The assault is clear and obvious—and was during last year’s election season—that the Right was intent on doing serious damage to both government and poor people.  The assault on the working class was also par for the course. 

In Wisconsin, Republicans control the state Legislature, and initially it seemed certain that Walker’s proposal would pass easily. But then the Democrats in the Legislature went into hiding, leaving that body one vote shy of a quorum. As of this writing, the Legislature was at a standstill as state police searched high and low for the missing lawmakers. A move necessary to protect the interests of the minority: union members.  Yes, unionized workers only make up 12% of America’s workforce.  That means 88% of the workforce is unprotected and subject to unfettered attack at any given time…and obviously doesn’t care—until the fiscal-ites come for them.

Just like other conservative Republican governors, including John Kasich of Ohio, Chris Christie of New Jersey, Mitch Daniels of Indiana and Rick Scott of Florida, the Wisconsin governor aims to drain the power of public employee unions, especially the teachers’ union, since public education is said to be the single biggest expenditure for every state.

Although Walker claims he was forced to impose cutbacks because the state is broke, teachers noticed that he offered generous tax breaks to businesses that were equivalent to the value of their givebacks.  Economists over the past two week’s have dissected the budgetary emergency argument that Walker has spouted. 

The uprising in Madison is symptomatic of a simmering rage among the nation’s teachers. They have grown angry and demoralized over the past two years as attacks on their profession escalated. In my hometown, Washington, DC, we had one of the most vicious attacks on our city’s teachers when “manufactured superstar, Michelle Rhee, unapologetically fired 200-plus teachers under the guise of “bad teachers”; then once challenged, changed the reason to “budgetary emergency,” then, once unveiled on that falsehood, charged the teachers with being “bad” again.  DC voters had their say when they voted Rhee and her boss, Mayor Adrian Fenty, out of office in the next election cycle.  They had to play catch-up.

So a weekend ago, held rallies across the country in support of public employees and others outraged at the Wisconsin budget-cutting bill they consider an attack on unions.  The galvanizing of left-of-center groups gets hot & heavy when the Right gets going, huh?  I can’t, for the life of me, understand why this wasn’t important to do last November? and other liberal and labor groups held noon events at all 50 state capitals.  That’s where it’s important…all 50 states.  Does anyone remember Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy?  He was onto something…

My point here is that every election is an important one.  Back-end organizing always has dire consequences.  The old saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” still holds true.  This generation has seemed to have forgotten though.  If I may use the race car analogy: It is imperative for the Left to remember that there is never a time to hit the rest stop; while you’re resting, the Right is still driving.  They may be reckless, off-course, two-at-the-wheel, or even drunk, but they’re still driving.

The focal point of the protests was the Wisconsin Capitol, where a snow and cold failed to deter about 70,000 who drummed, chanted and marched. “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Governor Walker has got to go,” chanted the group rallying in Madison.  My take on it is that Governor Walker should have never got in, so he could have to go! If we’re to protect the rights important to our existence, we can’t fall asleep at the wheel.


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