Archive for February 18th, 2011

“A Modest Proposal”

Scott Walker just spoke in response to the uprising in Madison, WI. He chose a bad turn of phrase to describe his plan to strip workers of collective bargaining and cripple unions- “a modest proposal.” It’s actually not a bad metaphor for this idea. In Jonathon Swift’s satirical work, it was proposed that weak members of society be further weakened (i.e. killed and eaten) so the rest of society can flourish. That’s pretty much Walker’s argument- let’s weaken labor, so that Wisconsin can remain “open for business.” Let’s ignore that new tax cuts created a state budget deficit, and instead brazenly transfer wealth from labor to capital with a euphemism of belt-tightening.

Walker’s proposal is not modest- it’s a brazen transfer of power. In the long term, it will weaken the state government, which is exactly what the Republicans want. State democrats, union members, and concerned activists have called Walker’s bluff, and now he is doubling down. However, because this proposal is not modest, these protests will only get bigger before they get smaller. It simply won’t stand, I hope, that the Wisconsin budget is balanced on the backs of workers.

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“Unions aren’t to blame”

Ezra nails it on the situation in Wisconsin:

In English: The governor signed two business tax breaks and a conservative health-care policy experiment that lowers overall tax revenues. The new legislation was not offset, and it turned a surplus into a deficit. As Brian Beutler¬†writes, “public workers are being asked to pick up the tab for this agenda.”

But even that’s not the full story here. Public employees aren’t being asked to make a one-time payment into the state’s coffers. Rather, Walker is proposing to sharply curtail their right to bargain collectively. A cyclical downturn that isn’t their fault, plus an unexpected reversal in Wisconsin’s budget picture that wasn’t their doing, is being used to permanently end their ability to sit across the table from their employer and negotiate what their health insurance should look like.

That’s how you keep a crisis from going to waste: You take a complicated problem that requires the apparent need for bold action and use it to achieve a longtime ideological objective. In this case, permanently weakening public-employee unions, a group much-loathed by Republicans in general and by the Republican legislators who have to battle them in elections in particular.

This crisis has not restored the balance between labor and capital, which isn’t surprising, because the theoretical pendulum swing has not been operational for three decades. Batting back these attacks on unions is a huge test for the long-term viability of the labor movement in the US. If labor can’t win a battle on such a cut-and-dry issue, what can it win?


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