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February 2011, Week 2

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Thu, 10 Feb 2011 20:27:25 -0500
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Public Workers Are Not Public Enemies

by Greg King

published by Portside

February 10, 2011

There have been a lot of negative things written about
public workers lately.  not just in our local newspapers,
but everywhere we turn.  Our healthcare benefits are too
generous.  Our pension costs are too onerous.  Governments
should make do with less, as should the people who staff
them.

Our healthcare benefits have been won over a period of
years.  Our unions have done like other unions.  We have
traded higher wage increases for better benefits. That is
the case not only with our healthcare benefits, but our
pension plans, our sick days, our personal days and other
things dickered over at the bargaining table.  We have
behaved no differently than autoworkers, steelworkers or
airline workers.

What unions have done was not wrong.  It is not wrong.  It
was and is to win better benefits for the members of those
unions.  Tens of millions of working people in this country
have better lives as a result of the wages and benefits won
for them by their unions.  Tens of millions more have
similarly better wages and benefits because their bosses
want to keep unions away from the door.  When unions win
better lives for their members, they are winning better
lives for all workers.  That is the way it works.  "A rising
tide lifts all boats," as the saying goes.

Ah, but the US economy has been in a tailspin.  Everybody
has got to tighten their belts.  We have to make do with
fewer resources for more people.  So the conventional
arguments go.  But where were those conventional arguments
when Wall Street was being bailed out?  When financiers were
basically granting themselves millions of dollars in bonuses
and stock options?  Somehow it is supposed to be belt-
tightening for you and me, John and Jane Q. Public, but the
sky's the limit for corporate and finance executives.

We believe in fairness in this country.  That is one of the
things that makes us Americans.  That is one of the ways we
can recognize each other.  The above scenario just is not
fair.  If Wall Street executives can have their bailouts,
their bonuses and their stock options, why cannot we on Main
Street, at City Hall Plaza and at Ashburton Place have our
healthcare benefits and our pension plans?

If it is because we live in a finite world with limited
resources, then I think it is time we took another look at
how those resources are divided.  There is something
unconscionably wrong with financiers buying mega mansions
while ordinary folk like you and me are losing our homes to
foreclosure, whether we were renting or owning those homes.
For us to be losing our jobs and our healthcare while Wall
Street execs sail off to Jamaica or jet off to Asia.

The solution to healthcare and pension costs is not to drag
public workers down.  It is to pull private industry workers
up.  If we can afford to shower those who already have a lot
of money with even more of it, we can also rethink our
priorities.  We can decide in our cities, our states and our
nation NOT to shower them with so much.  We can instead
divide up our pie more evenly.  We can as a nation decide to
pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan completely.  Help the
different parties to the conflicts there negotiate their way
toward coalition governments.  We can decide that maybe we
do not really need, as a people, to have 780 or so military
bases around the world.  We can stop spending so much on
military solutions and Wall Street bailouts.  Then we will
have money available for single-payer health insurance,
either nationally or state-by-state.  If we do those things
we will have freed up a lot of our country's resources.

If we apportion the pie more evenly, public workers can have
their pensions and their healthcare benefits, now more
rationally configured, and so can the autoworkers, the steel
workers, the airline workers, the Wal-Mart employees and the
Mom-and-Pop staffs, all over our country.  A rising tide
lifts all boats.  However, huge, luxury ocean-liners hit
icebergs created by their own folly.

I am a long-time employee of the City of Boston.

[Greg King, is a member of SEIU, Local 888 & Boston CCDS
(Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism)]

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