Saturday, February 19, 2011

slip-slidin' away

The Middle East is awash in popular dissent. Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, Bahrain -- the list is long. Presidents are being forced out and armies are being called up to quell demonstrations. Unemployment and underemployment breed unrest of the kind that those who perpetrated the creation of economic bubbles can ill afford if they want to keep amassing their profits.

And it's no longer just "over there" or "their difficulty:" In Wisconsin here in the United States, thousands have turned out and schools have been shut down in the face of a Republican attempt to vitiate union rights. A group of Democrats fled the state so as not to vote on the Republican governor's budget plan. I believe I read somewhere that the governor was considering calling out the national guard to fill in where necessary. And searching for the latest Wisconsin story this morning on My Way News, there was not a peep either on the front page or under the "national" listings. It is hard not to think ... if you don't report it, then it doesn't exist.

But it does exist and, again, it is hard not to think of all those Middle Eastern countries that called out the army in the face of popular dissent. It is hard not to remember that when unions were gaining a footing in this country, the police, at the behest of established governments, bloodied a lot of protesters. It was no ... fucking... joke.

Around the U.S., salivating Republicans are said to be watching what happens in Wisconsin carefully. Business is no friend to labor and if the country could go back to the status quo ante (unions), think how much more money business and its Republican stalwarts might make.

It is hard not to think that the United States is devolving, bit by bit, into a third-world status in which the rich become richer, the poor become poorer, and whatever was the so-called middle class is squeezed out of existence. I once read that the U.S. government has contingency plans in place in case the great unwashed rises up. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was once quoted as marveling that those affected by the Great Depression did not rise up.

Unions, of course, brought some of the disdain down on their own heads -- growing fat and smug and powerful in the extreme. But union power has eroded over time. I think that only about 16% of the American workforce is unionized, so although Wisconsin is locked in a battle with public employee "unions," the unions appear to represent a much wider constituency. Wisconsin it seems is in a battle with the working electorate, the very peasants who provide taxes for the barons of today. Republicans wait with baited breath, I imagine, nudging the robber barons out of their graves. In their own mirrors, they have nothing to be ashamed of.

OK -- it ain't new in an historical sense. But it does make you sad to see a great nation dissolve into a third-tier culture. A little shame never hurt anybody.


  1. OMG, someone has to pay for Obamacare. Imagine that.

    Walker has proposed raising the public employee share of health insurance premiums from less than 5 percent to 12.4 percent.

    The horror! The horror!

  2. "[The bill]It would still allow public workers to organise into unions, but they could not require workers to pay dues and would have to hold a vote annually to remain organised.

    Also, the workers would be forbidden to bargain collectively on any matter except pay increases that are no higher than inflation."

    What a great and 'patriotic' deal!

  3. The percentage of organized workers in the US is now at about 9-11%. The bankruptcy of GM and the increased exportation of jobs by corporations in search of cheap labor have eroded the union strongholds. The same corporations that have shipped jobs overseas are the ones that the anti-union folks think will take care of their remaining workers who (they think) don't need unions.

    My wife is a teacher in a (pretty well paid) district on Long Island. She tells me that the teachers in Wisconsin make a wage far below the average private sector, and the generous pension and health care benefits were incentives that attracted qualified people to the jobs.

    I have been mystified by the fact that the average American seems to believe that the unions are the party to blame for the decline in the standard of living of the average worker. To my (admittedly liberal) way of thinking, the question everyone should be asking is not why the unions have such great deals on salaries and benefits, but why the rest of the workers are willing to settle for so little.

  4. Well said Mark, well said.