EDITORIAL: “First they got rid of unionists. I said nothing, because I was not a unionist. When they came for me, there was no one to protest.” Each of us focused on Gov. Christie’s bid to demonize public servants is missing a much bigger picture: This isn’t unique to New Jersey, as the Woodstock in Wisconsin has shown. Across the U.S., a carefully constructed strategy is trying to turn the middle and working classes against one another.
“This is as critical a battle field for the future of our country as the breakup of the monopolies under Roosevelt or the rise of the UMW,” said journalist Seamus McGraw. “The union is the only thing that stands between the big corporations and their total domination of the machines of electoral politics.”
The broader “overall strategy,” as columnist Robert Reich put it, is in “pitting unionized workers against non-unionized, public-sector workers against non-public, older workers within sight of Medicare and Social Security against younger workers who don’t believe these programs will be there for them, and the poor against the working middle class.
“By splitting working America along these lines, Republicans want Americans to believe that we can no longer afford to do what we need to do as a nation. They hope to deflect attention from the increasing share of total income and wealth going to the richest 1 percent while the jobs and wages of everyone else languish,” Reich said.
For months, blogger Victor Sasson has been trying to get readers of his Eye on The Record to see that Christie has been trying to distract people from the fact that the rich aren’t being forced to pay their fair share — and are being allowed to shift more of their income to capital gains, which are taxed at a much lower rate than you or I pay.
“Governor Christie vetoed a dozen job-creation bills, claiming Democrats offered no means to pay for $600 million in business tax credits and incentives,” Sasson wrote Saturday. “Curiously, an estimated $600 million would be raised by a millionaires tax the governor vehemently opposes.”
No matter what anyone has led you to believe, unions didn’t cause the budget crisis in New Jersey, or in a boatload of other states. We hit a nasty recession, for one thing. And even before that, New Jersey governors picked public employee’s pension pockets to make it look as if they were holding the line on property taxes.
Wisconsin’s capital has become an encampment, with crowds pushing past six figures because Republican Gov. Scott Walker, with help from the GOP legislative majority, is trying to gut public servants’ collective bargaining rights. Ohio Gov. John Kasich has demanded similar hits in his state, as have lawmakers in Tennessee and Indiana. And we all know how Christie has lined up teachers AND police AND firefighters against the wall, with state workers next in line.
“What’s going on in Madison right now is one of the most significant events in this country’s labor history, and that’s not hyperbole,” McGraw emphasized. “A particular faction that has aligned with the GOP is out to break the unions.
“In this case, the governor manufactured a crisis, punching a $130 million hole in his budget and then demanding that the unions make it up.
“Rather than do that through negotiations, he sought to remove from the unions the right to collective bargaining. That’s a stake right through the heart of unionism,” said McGraw, whose book, The End of Country, is due for release by Random House this summer.
“And why? It’s not just because the unions opposed him (even though the two unions that support him are specifically exempted from the law). It is part of a long-standing campaign to defang the unions that oppose the GOP in general.
“After the Supreme Court last year gave the Chamber of Commerce and the Koch Brothers the go-ahead to spend unlimited amounts of secret cash on elections,” McGraw said, “there was only one organization in the country that had the financial wherewithal to spend enough to counter them and keep them from buying elections outright. That one organization is the very union that Walker and Kasich in Ohio and 12 other Republican governors are trying to de-legitimize.”
People, listen: Our police, teachers and firefighters aren’t the enemy. Those who tell you otherwise are either leading a quite comfortable life or have been conned into thinking public servants are standing in the way of them having one.
“Bargaining rights for public employees haven’t caused state deficits to explode,” Reich wrote in a column that appeared on RobertReich.org and The Huffington Post. “Some states that deny their employees bargaining rights, such as Nevada, North Carolina, and Arizona, are running big deficits of over 30 percent of spending. Many states that give employees bargaining rights — Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Montana — have small deficits of less than 10 percent.
“Republicans would rather go after teachers and other public employees than have us look at the pay of Wall Street traders, private-equity managers, and heads of hedge funds — many of whom would’ve lost their jobs today were it not for the giant taxpayer-supported bailout… [M]ost of whose lending and investing practices were the proximate cause of the Great Depression to begin with.”
As Reich points out, if America’s 13 top hedge-fund managers were taxed as regular income — instead of capital gains — the United States collectively would have enough money to cover the salaries and benefits of 300,000 teachers.
Christie is just another governor who wants to keep feeding the fat cats while turning the private-sector working-class against the very people who teach their children, protect their neighborhoods and rescue them and their loved ones from calamity.
As Dominick Marino, president of the Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey, pointed out: The state actuary has cited mismanagement — and not the workers — as the cause of the unfunded liability in the police and firefighters’ pension fund.
“[New Jersey’s] own expert is saying it: If the state had paid into its police and fire pension fund, instead of constantly skipping payments, there would be no issue with the fund,” Marino wrote, in a letter to Politicker.com urging residents not to “accept fiction as fact.”
Christie’s answer to the pension debacle is to, among other things, “cut benefits for firefighters and police officers, even for those firefighters and police officers who suffer serious disabling injuries on duty,” Marino warned. “That same plan requires that firefighters and police officers would have to work, in many cases, until they are 60 to get their full pensions.
“Fighting fires and protecting the public is physically demanding work. Requiring firefighters and police officers to work to a certain age is not logical and is detrimental to their health and hazardous to yours.”
“This isn’t about what teachers make, this isn’t about how much snow truck drivers make,” McGraw added. “If they make too much, or pay too little for their benefits, that’s because the states failed in their bid to win in negotiations. And now, instead of saying “we’ll do our job better” — even after the unions have offered to renegotiate — these governors, who owe their jobs to the big anti-union industries who funded their campaigns, are saying: ‘No, we will strip from you the right to collective bargaining.’
“They focus on the pay and the benefits, the very issues that the unions have agreed to discuss, in a cynical attempt to drive a wedge between them and those people in the working and ever-decreasing middle class, who should be united in this.”
“Because WE,” he said, “are the ones who have everything to lose.”