Fighting ‘Divide and Conquer’ in Wisconsin

A “privatization” mania is cannibalizing government as public functions and services are taken over by big business, from military contractors to corporations that decide who gets social services — at higher costs, since profits must be made when corporations run your schools or your wars.

It’s not public workers — teachers, firefighters, nurses, garbage collectors or social workers — that are creating budget deficits in Wisconsin or anywhere else. It’s the relentless demands by corporate “persons” to be exempt from paying their fair share while government is expected to work for them educating the workforce, providing transportation, infrastructure and cleaning up pollution corporations create. Public schools get cut while billionaire sports team owners get public funds for new stadiums with lots of new luxury boxes for corporate executives.

These legal thieves are now calling themselves “the job creators” but 75 per cent of all new jobs are created by much smaller business, which don’t get the public subsidies paid to big business.

In fact, corporations work mightily to undermine competition from Mom and Pop local businesses.

What’s maddening is that many profitable big companies are laying off workers and simply squeezing more out of the frightened, non-union workers that remain. The term “job creators’ is just the latest Ayn Rand mythology and “trickle down” hype.

As progressive populist Jim Hightower observes, corporations and the wealthy “see themselves as the Big Dogs and the rest of us are just a bunch of fire hydrants.”

For thirty years, workers have endured stagnant pay or wage cuts, loss of benefits and replacing pensions with 402Ks. (The latter, of course, were hit hard in the Wall Street fraud-driven financial meltdown). Unionized workers in the public sector have been more protected from these losses and so the Tea Party crowd misdirects workers’ anger and resentment towards unions — turning attention away from greedy CEOs with salaries and bonuses in the hundreds of millions, which they are allowed to protect from taxes.

Gov. Walker’s sponsors David and Charlie Koch awarded themselves $11 billion in bonuses this year. (Oil companies get big subsides from the federal government; Congress refused to cut those utterly unnecessary subsidies, even as the House passed cuts to clinics serving poor women).

Listen to any call-in show and one hears everyday workers say: “I don’t have health benefits on my job and those unionized workers get Cadillac care!” “I haven’t had a raise in three years but those auto workers are making too much!” “The unions along with the EPA demand regulations. They’re job killers!”

This is classic divide-and-conquer in action.

If those callers knew America’s labor history, they would know that unions brought us an eight-hour day, weekends off, overtime pay, wages above the sweatshop level of the countries corporations now are shipping jobs to, health and safety laws (not enforced as they should be, as the Massey mine disaster and British Petroleum explosions shown). I’ve lived in a so-called “right to work”/non-union state (Texas): without unions you get lower wages, no benefits and little social safety net for anyone.

lydia howellOrdinary people in the Tea Party haven’t figured out what corporations know. So the corporations and their top dogs get bought-and-paid-for elected officials like Gov. Walker to act on their behalf. Desperate workers mean more power for the already too-powerful and more wealth funneled to the already rich from the rest of us.

Madison protesters, counted at about 70,000 this weekend, are making new labor history. Only about 2,000 Tea Party opponents showed up, with “Joe the Plumber” flown in. In Hudson, Wisconsin, Minnesotans stood with public workers on Saturday. It’s rumored that similar attacks on labor are planned in New Jersey, Iowa and Ohio, but in Madison a prairie brush fire of resistance has begun.

Lydia Howell

Published by the LA Progressive on February 22, 2011
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