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.
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.
This 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.