Losing the Narrative on Public Employee Unions

Rachel Maddow

Rachel Maddow

The “Aggressive Right-wing Oligarchy” (ARO), in the post-Citizens United universe, appears to be winning. And the workers (and their nominal “representatives” in the Democratic Party) appear to be losing. No amount of cheerleading for Democrats on MSNBC from Rachel Maddow or anyone else can alter this course unless President Obama and other high-profile Democrats at the national level put aside their teacher bashing for a minute and understand that if labor unions go down the Democratic Party goes down with them.

This is the reason the ARO is telescoping its money into Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, New Jersey, and other states to bring down public employees. The ARO knows that by bringing down the public employee unions it brings down the Democratic Party. Unfortunately, what we know as the “Democratic Party” is only about one-half of a “labor party.” The other half is subservient to the same Wall Street CEOs, hedge fund managers, and other elements of the ARO as the Republicans. And they have engineered the most effective and comprehensive “bait and switch” in the history of the world.

Thirty years ago President Reagan declared that “welfare queens” were not “the truly needy” but “the truly greedy.” What we’re seeing today is the logical extension of that argument, only now working people who receive paychecks from state, county, or municipal governments – teachers, police officers, fire fighters, etc. – are the “welfare queens.”

Despite the courageous push back by workers in Wisconsin and other states, the dominant narrative largely views anyone who works for governmental institutions as somehow “freeloading”; and they’re freeloading off the salt-of-the-earth private sector folks that happen to include Wall Street CEOs, hedge fund managers, the Kochs and their ilk. The fact that this sorry state of affairs is even possible is a testimony to the power of the propaganda system that came into being shortly after President Bill Clinton signed the “Telecommunications Act” of 1996.

The Democrats’ strategy of kissing Wall Street’s ass in the vain hope that the “good people” among the suits over there will invest in American workers again has failed. Worse still, this “strategy” has enabled the media frame to shift gears to attacking public employees, their bargaining rights, their pensions — the base of the Democratic Party. A Faustian bargain if I’ve ever seen one.

In California, a right-wing group called the “Little Hoover Commission” has just produced a study that calls for stripping California’s public employees RIGHT NOW of a big chunk of their retirement pensions even after years of paying into them and giving up concession after concession to maintain them. Worse, a “grassroots” group calling itself “California Pension Reform” plans to put on the ballot an initiative to impose the “Little Hoover Commission’s” plan. And you know what? In the current media environment where public employee bashing rules the day, that proposition just might pass.

Joseph PalermoThis attack on public employee unions has just begun and won’t go away. And without a forceful, unapologetic, and painful counter punch to the nose against these elites from the Democratic Party (including the Obama Administration) the public employees are going to lose this war.

With the disempowerment of labor in our society, any sociologist will tell you, the living standards of all working people will be lowered. Yet the fear and anger of a society where 10 percent unemployment and downsizing public institutions is the norm is being channeled into public policy that serves the wealthiest interests. If the Democratic Party refuses to fight even for its own survival when workers across the country are fighting for their livelihoods, then the workers of America will have no choice but to form a third party, a labor party, to challenge the ARO.

Joseph Palermo

Joseph A Palermo

Published by the LA Progressive on March 5, 2011
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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).