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


  1. George A. Crackuh says

    Ms. Howell makes some good points – but the American people don’t want our only choice to be either a corporate master or a government master. That’s a false choice, and it’s anti-liberty.

    First – the corporate tax rate should be set at ZERO. Corporate profits get taxed when they are paid out as dividends. So make strict laws limiting deductions and retained earnings. Because corporations will simply raise their prices to cover the taxes, and we the consumers end up paying them. That is Econ 101 material.

    2nd – Madison is not ground zero for dismantling workers rights – it’s ground zero for dismantling our corrupt government unions as a wholly owned subsidiary of the corrupt Democrat party. It’s an unholy alliance that FDR certainly knew was wrong, and it’s a massive fraud on the American taxpayer. If you don’t see that, then you just aren’t paying attention to the balance-sheet numbers.

    Of course the Republican legislators can be as corrupt as the Democrats, too. Both parties are playing us for suckers as they each pander to their own special interests, and a pox on both their houses.

    Certainly, our government should not be handing out any free land or making special laws designed to favor big business. That is cronyism, and it is anti-free-market, and it stifles all the small businesses who have always created all the job growth in this country.

    But privatization is not a mania, it’s the just and efficient thing to do, and it saves money and improves services, almost without exception. Don’t blame the free market because corrupt governments are in bed with corrupt big biz – clean it up!

    Yes, have all corporations pay full costs for cleaning up after themselves, absolutely! No hidden externalities! And then let each consumer decide if the true cost of a product is worth its price. In the free market. If our legislators would simply clear out the wall of regulations designed to favor the big money guys, our insurance prices would fall, our medical care costs would fall, legal services costs would fall, other financial services costs would fall, real estate transaction costs would fall, and millions of consumers would be better served at less cost.

    Big companies are always going to shed workers, that’s part of their economies of scale. But it’s our legislators job to clear the roadblocks for the small competitors who can get closer to the customer, provide a better service, be more nimble than the big guys. That’s the free market, without cronyism.

    We need to divide and conquer, yes – we need to divide government power up so that every bill isn’t a Christmas tree for special interests. We need to divide political power so that turnover in the halls of Congress is more than 50% instead of less than 5% every term. We need to hold lawmakers accountable for putting big business out of its favored place in the laws, and opening up the playing field to millions of small businesses and entrepreneurs.

    We need to push political power back out of Washington DC and down through the states houses ond into the communities, as close to the people as possible, where we can keep a close eye on our local officials, and hold them accountable to the community.

    Our vast federal bureaucracy is sucking the life out of our civil society as it cronies with Big Business and Big Finance. It’s a losing game pulling for either leviathan to win. It’s time to get back to grass roots.

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