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HEMMED In – Labor under fire … literally

February 15, 2011


HEMMED In – Labor under fire … literally

Today’s output from Blogistan Polytechnic Institute’s state-of-the-art HEMMED (High-Energy Meta Mojo Elucidation Detector) machine is a call to arms of sorts.

The newly minted tea party Republican governors have begun their assault on unions … not even waiting for the ink to dry on the checks their supporters wrote at their inauguration balls.

Labor has always been the whipping boy of the conservative movement. You couldn’t swing a bag of money in a room full of conservatives without hitting one whose stated goal is to destroy the labor movement. Karl Rove laid out the plan over 15 years ago as the best hope for a permanent Republican majority. In the 2010 mid-term election, labor unions provided the manpower, the infrastructure and the energy to keep a shellacking from becoming a tsunami.

The latest attack by Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin is not surprising except perhaps for the rhetoric. The threat (promise?) to bring out the National Guard harkened back to the “good old days” when it labor and working people were fair game for not only rhetorical bullets but real ones.

Wisconsin is the state where this happened in 1886:

[There were] four days of massive worker demonstrations throughout Milwaukee on behalf of the creation of eight-hour day laws. As some 1,500 workers marched toward the Bay View Rolling Mills (then the area’s biggest manufacturer) urging the workers thereto join the marches, the State Militia lined up on a hill, guns poised. The marchers were ordered t o stop form some 200 yards away; when they didn’t, the militiamen fired into the crowd, killing seven persons.

Death was the penalty for demonstrating for the 8-hour work day, now an assumed right for most American workers.

To be fair, Gov. Walker did not say he was going to bring out the Wisconsin National Guard to shoot government employees who went on strike or who demonstrated. He said he would utilize the National Guard to fill in for workers at “critical” jobs if employees did not show up for work.

But even with that concession, there are two problems with conjuring up the image of the National Guard rescuing big business or government from those dastardly unions.

The first comes from Vote Vets :

“Maybe the new governor doesn’t understand yet – but the National Guard is not his own personal intimidation force to be mobilized to quash political dissent,” said Robin Eckstein, a former Wisconsin National Guard member, Iraq War Veteran from Appleton, WI, and member of “The Guard is to be used in case of true emergencies and disasters, to help the people of Wisconsin, not to bully political opponents. Considering many veterans and Guard members are union members, it’s even more inappropriate to use the Guard in this way. This is a very dangerous line the Governor is about to cross.”

The second is his use of the term “critical workers”. His assault on the unions creates an exemption for law enforcement and fire departments which he deems “essential”. This is the Republican view of government. In their mind the only essential government services are those two, maybe because they can picture themselves needing police or fire protection or to have a paramedic come to their house if they require medical attention.

There are many other essential government services. For example, the guys who plow the streets after a storm or lay down salt before a storm. Or the people who work in the water departments who keep our drinking water safe and who repair broken water mains. Or the folks at the social services agencies who processes a request for food stamps or heating assistance or to help someone find a place to live. Or those who staff the unemployment agencies to help people find jobs.

In Republican-speak these are non-essential because they personally do not need them. Or think they don’t.

As progressives we need to not only work to preserve the labor movement but we also need to constantly remind people about what Good Government does for everyone. The assault on government workers can serve as a wakeup call to us that government is essential to many of us and most certainly to the least among us.

Labor, and the delicate progress we forged over the last two years, is under fire. But we can use that to light a different kind of fire under us to work harder every day to remind people that two steps forward and one step back will keep happening until we all figure out that every single election is important.

Happy Tuesday to everyone and fist bumps!

The BPI Campus Progressive agenda:
1. People matter more than profits.
2. The earth is our home, not our trash can.
3. We need good government for both #1 and #2.

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  • JanF

    President Obama is sending out information on a labor rally here in Madison. Organizing for America is labelling these new initiatives “Protect Our Progress”.

    We all need to remember that and to fight back against those who want us to go backward.

  • Julie Gulden

    This MUST get more exposure. Extremely well written well researched.
    Thank you.

    • JanF

      Thanks for stopping by, Julie Gulden.

      We also need to make sure we are fighting the right battles.

      The rally in Madison will raise the consciousness of those who think we can ride this out but it will do little in the short run. Walker and his enablers are determined to turn back the clock and they are counting on pushing through their entire agenda now in the hopes that people forget about this in 2012.

      I hope this is a huge miscalculation on their part. This whole thing is not going to end well for them, in my opinion.

  • addisnana

    Too often in the press the collective power of unions is falsely equated to the power of corporations. This was never true but even less so now as levels of representation have fallen. That false equivalency was used a lot in discussing Citizens United.

    The bureau of Labor Statistics

    –The union membership rate for public sector workers (36.2 percent) was
    substantially higher than the rate for private sector workers (6.9 percent).
    (See table 3.)

    In 2010, the union membership rate–the percent of wage and salary workers who were
    members of a union–was 11.9 percent, down from 12.3 percent a year earlier, the U.S.
    Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The number of wage and salary workers be-
    longing to unions declined by 612,000 to 14.7 million. In 1983, the first year for
    which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 per-
    cent, and there were 17.7 million union workers.

    The BLS site has all sorts of good information.

    Reagan wanted people to think, with the air traffic controllers’ strike that unions were the problem. What unions are is the canary in the coal mine for the stagnation of middle class earning power. I think Fred might get that.

    Great hemmedin Jan.

    • JanF

      Thanks, addisnana.

      We saw that false equivalence after the hue and cry over Citizens United. The right-wing said that the unions would have as much power as the corporations so it would be a wash.

      Right. A worker in SEIU making $10 an hour cleaning floors and paying $25 a month towards the union fund is going to have the impact of Koch Industries or the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

      One of the little mentioned aspects of Scott Walker’s proposed legislation is that he makes it illegal for employers to take union dues out of workers paychecks. So this law actually defunds the unions … unless the worker sends a check on their own to pay dues. Level playing field? No. Way. In. Hell.

  • winterbanyan

    I remember when the National Guard was called in to drive trucks during a Teamsters strike.

    Needless to say, the union lost in negotiations, truck drivers lost in negotiations, and few truck drivers today are unionized.

    This can’t be allowed. Excellent HEMMED In.

    • JanF

      Someone called in to local radio here and reminded people that many of the state workers are National Guardsmen. So what do they do when they are asked to be strike-breakers for other state workers? Yikes.

      Scott Walker threatening to use the guard is a shout-out to his backers and to those who have hated state workers for years.

      There is nothing to be done but hope that either the Republican legislature sees what a mess this would cause or that after this law is passed, it is immediately challenged in Federal court.

      This is an assault on our very way of life.

      By the way, it is a time-honored tradition to pit one union against another in order to fray the labor movement. Carving out the exemption for law enforcement and fire unions may be less about “essential services” and more about sowing dissension among unionized employees.

  • JanF

    Organizing for America sent an email to everyone in Wisconsin on their email list to call their legislators. Mine are both Democrats but I called them anyway. The state Senators office said that they have gotten over 2,000 emails and hundreds of phone calls almost all opposing Walker’s bill. The state Assembly office said that all but a handful of calls are overwhelming against the bill.

    The good news is that people are calling the good guys and telling them that we are on their side.

    OFA is also organizing another rally for tomorrow and people will be getting bussed in from the hinterlands to demonstrate at the state capitol. Students are being encouraged to call their home district representatives (who may not be Democrats) to tell them to vote against it.

  • NCrissieB

    Great article, Jan. The dismal scenario is now playing out in Wisconsin, New Jersey, Florida, and elsewhere. The one bright spot is that it might … might! … wake people up to the fact that today’s Republican Party cares not one whit for jobs or workers. Several Republicans told President Obama government doesn’t create jobs. Yet Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) also told President Obama private business doesn’t have a responsibility to create jobs either. In short, no one does, in the GOP worldview. In that worldview, the sole duty of business is to reward investors, and the sole duty of government is to insure and shelter investors’ profits. Oh, and offer police and emergency services, and maybe we pesky little people should have to pay a fee for those too….

  • J Brunner fan

    Someone in Ohio who is a public official and part of the middle class but voted for R’s is getting this message now.

    Sheriff Sims is going to get a lesson in why voting for R’s means voting for rich people only especially since they want to destroy the middle class.

    Why do people vote for R’s, because they lie.