Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Pension Envy?

Maybe there is power in a union after all. Hang tough, Wisconsin! Don't back down!

To a certain extent, I've understood the common urge to bash teachers' unions around a bit. I suppose there have been ways in which they could have shown more flexibility over the years, and they could have shown more interest and effort in providing quality education to our kids over protecting their own tenure and benefits. I have even questioned in the past whether or not unions are even necessary in the public sector.

In today's political climate, however, especially in light of the recent events in Wisconsin, I'm willing to go to the wall and fight for them. I'd say it is more important to fight for the right to collective bargaining than ever before. With private sector unions beaten down and all but practically extinct, the public sector unions represent the last trench for worker's rights.

In speaking up for social justice on traditionalist Catholic blogs in the past, I have been accused of class envy and of advocating class warfare. To the accusation of envy, I say not so. I work for a Fortune 500 company. Our family is doing OK, but we don't necessarily need or want what the nouveau riche at the top of the economic ladder want. We certainly don't want it at the expense of our fellow countrymen. Those of us who are content to live simply should be left alone by those who'd put others out on the street because they refuse to live simply. As for class warfare, I'll just quote Warren Buffett on that. He's a rich guy who gets it.
There's class warfare, all right,but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning.
Thank you for stating it plainly, Mr Buffett. There has been a class war for three decades now, but it has been unilateral. Read Mike Lux today, in The Politics of Envy:
Conservatives love to write off progressive populism as "the politics of envy," saying we envy the rich instead of recognizing them for being the hardworking entrepreneurs they are. Given that, the current conservative exercise of attacking public employees for getting pensions, decent health care coverage, and occasional salary increases is irony on a scale rarely seen. Republicans and conservatives' basic argument is that since private-sector workers have been so thoroughly screwed on wages, health care, and retirement plans in recent decades, those same workers should be mad that teachers and cops and social workers have gotten a little more economic security than they have. If that ain't the politics of envy, I don't know what is.

Pitting workers against workers for the scraps of the economic system as a few people and corporations at the top rake in, and then hoard, most of the money is a tried and true tactic, and it sometimes works. But the movement revolt that started in Wisconsin and is spreading rapidly to other states is so far successful in turning the argument around. When 70,000 pro-union progressive protesters show up at the Capitol in Madison, and the numbers keep building day after day, and the kind of folks coming are just soft-spoken teachers and hearts-on-their-sleeve firefighters, it gets impossible to write these people off as a narrow special interest.....

There is no envy on our side of these demonstrations: people just want a fair shake. There are no tantrums about being unwilling to talk or compromise or sacrifice in hard times, they just want to have a voice through collective bargaining. And a majority of people in Wisconsin get it -- 65 percent support the right of public employees to bargain...

And speaking of envy: the Tea Party folks in all their ballyhooed hype have never been able to turn out these kinds of crowds, even with the enormous corporate money behind them....

The Democratic senators in Wisconsin are doing the right thing in staying away and showing solidarity with the attacked unions. Now the national Democratic Party is going to have to step up to the plate and show whose side it is on. They need to embrace the protesters and embrace this moment. There has been a widening gulf between establishment D.C. Democrats and grassroots progressives, as the latter have gotten more and more alienated from too many Democrats taking on the pro-big business and bankers ideology. In this movement moment, Democrats need to stand unapologetically with progressives, which so far too many seem to have been wobbly about doing...

This fight is for all of us; it is about preserving the American middle class and our ability to organize collectively. It is about human rights. It is about focusing the blame for the economic crisis where it belongs, on bankers and policy makers, not teachers and cops. And the fight isn't just in Wisconsin: All over this country, the conservative movement is trying to take away our rights, and everywhere in America, we should be showing solidarity with our embattled brothers and sisters in Wisconsin.


Garpu said...

My stepmother-in-law was out there protesting in solidarity with them in WI today.

Feeling uneasy about the future. Just when you think things can't get much worse, they do.

Jeff said...

Hi Jen,

Good for her!

The protests have spread to Indiana now. Maybe that's a good sign.