Losing the Narrative on Public Employee Unions

ed schultz

Ed Schultz

Public Employee Unions Losing the Fight

Despite what some polls are telling us, the Democrats at the national level are rapidly losing the narrative thread on the issue of collective bargaining rights for public employees. The frame of the “debate” on public worker pensions, and the role of labor unions in American society generally, has already largely moved in the direction that Wall Street CEOs, hedge fund managers, and the Koch brothers want it to go. On MSNBC, Ed Shultz of The Ed Show is trying his best to counter the dominant narrative but an hour of programming here and there against the Fox noise machine is like strumming a lute in the middle of a heavy metal concert.

The national press and corporate media news shows are now — and for the foreseeable future will continue to be – obsessed with the pension plans, salaries, and bargaining rights of public employees. No amount of triumphalist commentary coming from MSNBC, especially now that Keith Olbermann is gone, can counter the dominant narrative of the Fox News/Talk Radio/Corporate Media propaganda system that pounds the line into our heads, day in and day out, that what’s ailing America these days is not the biggest rip off ever by mortgage securities giants but the retirement plans for elementary school teachers, nurses, social workers, police officers, correctional officers, firefighters.

Just as President Obama and the Democrats lost the handle on the health care narrative in the summer of 2009 (when they allowed the Tea Party to hijack the debate at town halls while sitting by passively watching), they’re doing it again by standing on the sidelines, watching, as the most aggressive assault on labor unions we’ve seen in a generation takes place.

The propaganda function of the corporate media is a modern marvel. Even after Wall Street pumped up a $8 trillion housing bubble and extorted from taxpayers trillions of dollars in bailouts and loan guarantees the dominant media frame has successfully pitted people who earn about $30,000 or $40,000 or $50,000 a year against other people who earn about $30,000 or $40,000 or $50,000 a year.

Millions of working Americans apparently do not understand that weakening labor unions — yes, Michelle Rhee and Arne Duncan, even teachers’ unions — will only serve in the long run to lower their own living standards. And the reason they don’t understand this simple fact is because they’re constantly swimming in a polluted sea of propaganda. Pick up a newspaper or turn on the local news and in between the stories about layoffs of state, county, and municipal employees you’ll find editorials and news “analyses” with the same simple message: “We” can no longer afford to pay public employees what they’ve been paid for the past half century.

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About Joseph Palermo

Joseph Palermo is Professor of History, California State University, Sacramento. Professor Palermo's most recent book is The Eighties (Pearson 2012). He has also written two other books: In His Own Right: The Political Odyssey of Senator Robert F. Kennedy (Columbia, 2001); and Robert F. Kennedy and the Death of American Idealism (Pearson, 2008). Before earning a Master's degree and Doctorate in History from Cornell University, Professor Palermo completed Bachelor's degrees in Sociology and Anthropology from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a Master's degree in History from San Jose State University. His expertise includes the 1980s; political history; presidential politics and war powers; social movements of the 20th century; the 1960s; and the history of American foreign policy. Professor Palermo has also written articles for anthologies on the life of Father Daniel Berrigan, S.J. in The Human Tradition in America Since 1945 (Scholarly Resources Press, 2003); and on the Watergate scandal in Watergate and the Resignation of Richard Nixon (CQ Press, 2004).

Comments

  1. What propaganda?

    When a Private Business uses Union Labor, they have to keep close watch on what they concede to the Unions. . . GM and Chrysler are good examples of failure to balance. . .

    In the Public Sector, there is no competition, no other recourse, and no profit margin to keep an eye on – all the money and benefits conceded to Public Sector Unions are “earned” through the use of guns and violence – and those who pay for these wages and benefits have NO-ONE to negotiate on their behalf.

    Public Sector Unions should be abolished – abolished NOW, and everyone (I mean EVERYONE) involved in them, from Legislators to union members, put in prison for a very very long time.

  2. This is a fight the Democrats apparently want to fight with one hand tied behind its back. Trade union members have organization but they only represent a small percent of the working class. Most Democrats are working class people who don’t belong to a union but wish they did. Unions ten years ago figured out how to communicate with their members, the Democrats haven’t figured that out yet. In Dane County ,where Madison Wisconsin is located they only communicate with 1 percent of their members , 2000 out of 200,000 local Democrats.
    This is the same story throughout the country. Our slogan should be “can we win with one hand tied behind our backs.”Many of the elected Democrats and leaders are very smart people. We need to ask them why they apparently think we can protect ourselves without spending chump change on organizing our members.

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