June 2012, Week 5


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Left Margin

Public Workers and their Unions Endure Constant
"Austerity" Attack

By Carl Bloice - BC Editorial Board
June 28, 2012


It never ceases to amaze me how some people who
are rich and famous - especially those with access to
major newspaper opinion pages - are so quick to
declare that others, who are neither, should have to
suffer pain.

Take, for instance, the ubiquitous David Brooks.
Back at the start of the year when Scott Walker
began to go after the Wisconsin's public workers in
earnest, the Times columnist criticized the
Republican governor for excluding police and
firefighters from his attack. But on the larger issue,
Brooks defended Walker and his party legislators
saying they "were doing exactly what they told voters
they would do." He went on to decry public workers
as inhabiting "workplaces where personnel
decisions are made on the basis of seniority, not
merit" and where there is "little relationship between
excellence and reward, which leads to resentment
among taxpayers who don't have that luxury."

Our fate is tied up with these workers

"Getting state and federal budgets under control will
take decades," wrote Brooks February 21. "It will
require varied, multipronged approaches, supported
by broad and shifting coalitions. It's really important
that we establish an unwritten austerity
constitution: a set of practices that will help us cut
effectively now and in the future.

"The foundation of this unwritten constitution has
to be this principle: make everybody hurt. The cuts
have to be spread more or less equitably among as
many groups as possible." Brooks called upon
Walker "and the debt fighters everywhere to think of
themselves as founding fathers of austerity."

"They are not only balancing budgets, they are
setting precedent for a process that will last
decades. By their example, they have to create
habits that diverse majorities can respect and
embrace. The process has to be balanced. It has to
make everybody hurt."

Of course, a lot depends on what you mean by
"everybody." It's doubtful, Brooks has in mind
spreading the pain to upper middle class suburban
Montgomery County, Maryland where he and his
wife have a four-bedroom, 4,600-square-foot house.

Now, four months later, with the defeat of the labor-
led effort to recall Walker, the Austarians, with
Brooks' encouragement, have won a major battle
and the unions representing teachers, nurses,
school crossing guards, park rangers, cops and
bridge toll takers are politically on the defensive.
Lest anyone think the attack on public worker
unions is merely a Republican plot we should be
clear: it's all too often a bipartisan effort.

Our reason for organizing is our reason for being: to
give every worker a fair shot in a world where the
decks are stacked against us

Don't ask me why Reuters decided to go after
financier Steven Rattner's opinion after the outcome
of the convention and leadership election of the
American Federation of State County and Municipal
Employees union (AFSCME). Maybe he was just
handy. But he wasn't reticent: "Even some
Democrats, like Steve Rattner, the former head of
the U.S. government's auto task force who currently
manages the personal investments of New York
City's mayor Michael Bloomberg, think public sector
workers need to share more of the pain from the
downturn and slow-motion recovery," the news
agency said.

"Their private sector counterparts have taken major
pain as part of this economic downturn and they
have for the most part not taken any," Rattner told
Reuters. "But they're going to have to take some
pain and I think there ought to be a way to do it
peacefully and fairly." It's nice to know Rattner
doesn't think limiting the remuneration and job
security of public workers need involve violence, but
fairness is another matter.

The idea that public workers haven't felt the pain of
the recent economic havoc is ludicrous.
Government employment - federal, state, and local -
has fallen by over 600,000 since the spring of 2009.

Rattner used to be a reporter at the New York Times
and his writing still appears there from time to time,
and at the Financial Times as well. However, in the
early eighties he made a career change and spent
two decades as an investment banker at Lehman
Brothers, Morgan Stanley, and Lazard Freres & Co.
He was one of four founders of the private equity
and hedge fund related Quadrangle Group that
eventually came to be worth $6 billion. "I have the
best wife in the world; I have four wonderful
children; everybody is healthy; we're financially
secure; and nothing else matters," he was quoted as
saying at one point. His wife, Maureen White, also
an investment banker, was for five years finance
chair of the Democratic National Committee.
"Rattner and his wife are known for throwing lavish
parties in their Manhattan apartment," said Time

"The crossing guards, snow-plow operators and
librarians who make up the membership of the
AFSCME pushed back during their convention this
week," said Reuters June 22.

Last week, delegates to AFSCME's 75th anniversary
convention elected what the union referred to as a
"new leadership team" of Lee Saunders as president
and Laura Reyes as secretary-treasurer. Sauders, a
former labor economist and long time African
American union activist, served previously as the
union's secretary-treasurer and as executive
assistant to outgoing president Gerald McEntee.
Reyes, an AFSCME international vice president,
joined UDW Homecare Providers Union/AFSCME
Local 3930 in California in 2002. She is the first
woman to be elected to secretary-treasurer.

"We will dig deep into every state, every city to
organize new workers from every sector," Reyes said.
"Our reason for organizing is not just to collect more
dues, or boast higher numbers. Our reason for
organizing is our reason for being: to give every
worker a fair shot in a world where the decks are
stacked against us."

Make everybody hurt

"When we enter into bargaining, our people
understand that they don't want to tear apart the
community. They're part of the community,"
Saunders told the convention delegates. "But we
don't want things shoved down our throats. We
don't want the collective bargaining process

"We know that Wall Street and their allies are
engaged in an all-out assault against our members
and the services we provide," Saunders said upon
assuming his new post. "We are united in our
commitment to stand up for the men and women
who care for America's children, nurse the sick,
plow our streets, collect the household trash and
guard our prisons. Our members are a cross-section
of America, not some elite group as our opponents
try to claim. We are energized and ready for the
battles ahead."

It looks like it is going to be quite a battle. The
David Brooks and Steven Rattners, purveyors of
austerity US-style, have rich and powerful allies on
the right and in the center. Their idea of enforcing
"shared sacrifice" is to turn the screws on the people
that deliver our mail, clean our streets, guard our
neighborhoods and care for the sick and indigent,
while those who already have a lot get more.

What we are dealing with here is an effort to
undermine public employee unions (having already
delivered serious blows to labor in the private
sector), employing divide-and-rule tactics in an
attempt to stir resentment in the ranks of workers in
the private sector who - unprotected by unions -
face continual assaults on their living standards
and economic security, and an effort to deflect
attention from the nation's growing economic
inequality. In such a situation it is true that labor's
leaders and strategist are obliged to shape up their
strategies and find creative tactics to confront this
assault. It is equally beholden on those outside
organized labor - the rest of us in the 99 percent - to
recognize that our fate is tied up with these workers
and how this all plays out.

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member
and Columnist, Carl Bloice, is a writer in San
Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating
Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for
Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a
healthcare union.


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