Saturday, April 7, 2012

Issue #57 April 7, 2012- Politics, Defending Unions, Spend Carefully and More

What This Is…
Issue #57- April 7, 2012
In this issue: Political News, Unions Are Necessary, It Isn't Working for Wisconsin, Spend Your Money Wisely

Political News…
Elections as Political Strategy
The Progressive Movement in Wisconsin has chosen to use the electoral process as one of our main vehicles for fighting the right's attacks on our values.  A tremendous amount of energy and effort has gone into the recall effort and towards supporting progressive candidates at the local level.  While this is a sound strategy in many ways, it also is a risky and often frustrating way of enacting change.  However, if we truly believe in the ideals of democracy we must be prepared to take our message to the citizens.

Elections can't be our only method of resistance, but they make an excellent first line of defense.  We know that we face an uphill battle and there are many obstacles to running successful campaigns against GOP candidates. 

Propaganda and Political Extremism: The GOP has mastered the art of political advertising/propaganda.  The idea of taking a few simple themes, and hammering on them until voters associate a parties agenda with their own interests is key to Republican successes in recent elections.  By making themselves out to be defenders of freedom, justice and the "American Way" the GOP has convinced many voters to cast ballots in ways that defeat their own interests.  This aggressive and manipulative strategy has been employed by many groups throughout our history, but modern media outlets allow for advertising and other forms of propaganda to have a huge impact on elections.  The attack on "Obamacare" by the right is one example of the tremendous amount of influence propaganda can have on an issue.    

What is flying under the radar of mainstream media and general public attention is the fact that the agenda espoused by Walker and other extremists is exactly that, EXTREME.  For the past 50+ years there has been an ongoing battle in the Republican Party between moderates and conservatives for control over the party platform.  The Republican Party of 2012 is much different than the party that existed a relatively short time ago.  Clifton White, a conservative Republican leader during the 1950's and 60's, used tactics borrowed from the Communist Party to promote a radical conservative philosophy.  In a book by Geoffrey Kabaservice, Rule to Ruin, he states that Clifton, "Saw in their (Communist's) example the methods by which a small, disciplined minority, uninhibited by bourgeois scruples over fair play or tradition or truth, could defeat a majority and bend an organization to its will."  Sounds a lot like our modern day Tea Party strategies, and we can find significant parallels between this philosophy and Scott Walker's strategies. 

Progressives need to take a page from the GOP handbook and use the same political strategy (minus the illegal, immoral and unethical aspects) to emphasize the fact that what is being pushed by Walker and his supporters is not what is valued by mainstream Americans.  The extremist GOP agenda isn't good for our society in any way (political, economic or cultural).  In a response to the conservative efforts to seize the GOP during the 50's a group called the Ripon Society wrote an open letter called the "Call to Excellence".  This letter stated,      "We must show our world that our emotion can be aroused by a purpose more noble and a challenge more universal than the cries of an irresponsible extremism…We must learn to be as excited about openmindedness as we once were about final answers." 

This is a challenge for progressives and moderates because as Doug Bailey, one of the founding members of the Ripon Society, stated,  "Moderates are moderates.  Raising the sword of moderation and marching down a street is a contradiction in terms….With people who feel passionately about something and are certain that they are right, it's easier to get them to organize and march and do the things necessary to be sure that their position prevails-because they have no doubt.  On the other hand, if you're moderate, it basically means you have some doubts….You're not as certain of your beliefs, and they may not dominate every moment of your existence.  And therefore it's not likely that you're going to make the commitment of time, energy, money, resources , and passion to try to turn your beliefs into reality."

We must make the differences clear and make citizens realize that their moderate views are viewed as extreme by the extremists on the far right.  The conservative movement as represented by Walker has no respect for the moderate view.  This is why we see the normally quiet and politically dormant middle class of Wisconsin rising up and protesting, petitioning and actively resisting the Walker agenda. 

We must counter the message that resistance to Walker's "reforms" is radical by sharing the facts about what is really happening.  It is clear that the conservatives are putting a great amount of effort into "radicalizing" the protests and recalls.  By making activists seem like they are on the fringe of our society the conservatives hope to make their actions seem moderate and rational.  This is why it is so important to share information with fellow citizens and to speak out against what is happening here in Wisconsin.  The recalls are not a radical movement, they are a strong and positive response to the actions of the GOP in our state.  

Media Bias: The mainstream media is failing in their duty to accurately report the facts surrounding events here in Wisconsin (and around the nation).  It is the duty of the members of the media to report events in as unbiased a way as possible and to make sure that the public is informed about events that are of importance to them.  Instead of fulfilling their duties, the media here in Wisconsin has "sold out" in their effort to appear unbiased and to sell their product.  This has happened in many ways:

Misrepresenting events and not correcting the mistakes…  Remember the $7.5 million price tag for the February protests in Madison.  We were told in no uncertain terms that protesters had destroyed the beauty of the Capitol and were going to cost the taxpayers huge sums of money.    

(5% of this cost was to a consultant to determine what needed to be done)

Writing editorials and saying they're news…  News articles should be filled with facts and give an unbiased account of events.  Much of what fills our news media's papers/broadcasts/etc. really belongs on the editorial/opinion page.  When covering a story like the political conflicts in Wisconsin, news outlets need to be very careful about their coverage.  These two articles provide excellent examples of how thin a line this can be. 

A lack of credible sources and quality reporting….  What I've found disappointing in local media coverage is the lack of facts.  For example, the local newspaper never took the opportunity to share the details of the budget repair bill, or the budget in their efforts to cover the story last year.  Instead they relied on short snippets of the legislation and quotes from individuals.  I also find it troubling that there are so few sources that are used in covering a story.  Using the Achievement Gap as an example you find local media quoting from only a small number of sources on a consistent basis.  A couple of individuals with opposing views are quoted and the media then claims unbiased reporting.  The issues we are grappling with here in Wisconsin deserve better coverage. 

Profit over substance… It is clear that the local media outlets are more interested in selling product than in really covering news.  Is this the fault of the local reporters, or is it part of a larger effort by conservatives to dominate the media to get their message heard more clearly than progressive views?  Big money has an influence in all areas of our society and our media is not immune from this. 

Campaign Funding: The amount of money spent on Wisconsin political campaigns this year will be record setting.  Scott Walker and the GOP will benefit from significant support by wealthy donors.  Unions will try and match the efforts, but the ability of unions to counter the wealthy foundations and Super PACs isn't the real issue.  What is at stake here is the trend towards eliminating the power of the individual to influence an election.  The money spent in Wisconsin will go primarily to less regulated organizations who will spend their money on negative advertising designed to scare and intimidate voters to cast a ballot against a candidate, not for a cause.  

Election Fraud: We've been told to fear the fraud and corruption that has tainted recent elections and the recall process.  Now that the huge amount fraud (4 fraudulent names and a tiny percentage of signatures thrown out) in the recall process has been exposed.  We should begin to worry about all those illegal ballots that will be cast for Democrats in the elections because Voted ID is in jeopardy.  This is a great example of GOP propaganda being used to fuel unreasonable fears that lead to unreasonable "protections" being put in place.  "Protections" that actually harm democratic values while claiming the opposite.

What should we really worry about? 

April 3rd Results
The recent elections showed us the two sides of using elections as a strategy to reclaim Wisconsin.  First, there is the inevitable concern about voter turnout.  One would think that in our politically charged atmosphere there would be a large percentage of voters participating in any election.  That only about 23% of Wisconsin voters showed up on Tuesday is troubling.  In Madison only about 28% of the registered voters cast a ballot in what was considered one of the most hotly contested school board races in recent memory

Why is this troubling?  It is scary that about 1/4 of the citizens who could cast a ballot did.  This means that a small minority of people decided who will sit as a judge, who will make vital decisions for our schools, who will make decisions about what our local governments do, etc.  While there were encouraging signs in the races for Dane County Board, the result for the school board election were mixed.  I believe that Madison citizens missed a chance to elect a new face in Michael Flores and instead went with a known entity in Burke.  I continue to be troubled by her stand on Madison Prep and other issues, but time will tell what type of board member she will be. 

Of interest to many of us was the appointment of Kaleem Caire to the board of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.  Given all that has happened in Madison regarding the efforts to get Madison Prep off the ground it is becoming clear that the Madison Prep movement was not just about that single school.  It is difficult to believe that the Madison Prep proposal wasn't an opening volley in the effort to privatize education in Madison.  An effort that has met with generally poor results across the United States.  Now that Mary Burke is on the board, supporters of charter schools are hoping that will give enough support for privatization to occur.  Citizens of Madison need to stay informed and make sure that we protect our public schools. 

Defending Unions…
At the heart of the current battles in Wisconsin lies the fight for worker's rights and the conservative dislike of labor unions.  There are many other issues of great importance, but without the direct attack on the rights of workers we would not be seeing the high level of political upheaval that we are experiencing here. 

The reasons behind the attacks seem obvious.  There are political and economic motives for conservatives to work to destroy labor unions.  Unions are one of the last large political forces that oppose conservative candidates.  They provide the organization and money for candidates running against the GOP, primarily Democrats.  They also provide organization and support for workers trying to increase wages and benefits while improving working conditions.  Things that cut into a business' "bottom line".  With unions out of the way, and Citizens United in full effect, conservatives would have a tremendous advantage in any contested political campaigns.

Membership in private sector unions has declined over the years.  This is due to many factors, but in no small part is due to efforts by a coalition of conservative lawmakers and business leaders to make labor organizing more difficult.  With private sector unions declining it makes sense that the next target for anti-labor efforts would be the public sector unions.  Scott Walker's efforts to dismantle public sector unions is not isolated, but certainly has taken center stage in the struggle going on across the country.       

These attacks have been justified by conservatives as necessary for the economic health of our governments at all levels.  We've been told that legislation like Wisconsin's Act 10 (the budget repair bill) save money, give flexibility to local governments and that they protect the rights of workers to choose whether to unionize or not.  Over the next few months we will hear examples of the supposed effectiveness of the "reforms" that Walker and the Wisconsin GOP pushed into law.  We will here all about the supposed evils that public sector unions have imposed on individuals and on our society as a whole.  All this will be done while at the same time saying that it isn't the individuals who are the problem, it's the unions (Ever hear anyone say, "I like teachers, I don't like teacher's unions")

Anti-union forces have found their ultimate quote in the letter written by FDR to  Luther C. Steward, President of the National Federation of Federal Employees, in August 16, 1937.  In this letter he states,  "The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service…"  Their argument is that public employees should be treated separately from private employees and are not entitled to the same rights and privileges.

Over the next couple of weeks I intend to explore some of the reasons public sector employees need to have the right to organize and enjoy the protections offered by unions.  However, as I began thinking about how to share my ideas I began to realize that this separation of public and private sector workers is to some significant degree an artificial one.  A division created specifically to separate workers and to create dissention between different groups who have essentially the same goals and objectives at heart. 

I recognize that there are many who would disagree with me and say that the two types of employment are very different.  This is primarily due to the difference in management.  The argument that I usually hear regarding the differences is one heavily influenced by conservative ideology.  This argument follows the thinking that too much government is bad and that private industry is more productive and efficient in utilizing resources of any type (including human capital).  Because public employees get their money from public funds which are controlled by elected officials this somehow gives the employees unfair leverage and control over their working conditions and benefits.   

I don't pretend to be an economist or any expert in this field.  However, after much reading and practical experience in private and public occupations I fail to see the validity in this argument.  What I do see is a concerted effort to paint public employees as less than their private sector counterparts.  We are portrayed as lazy, unproductive and protected by unions no matter how incompetent we are.  Much is made of our high salaries and great benefits, things that private sector workers are told are unreasonable.  We perpetually hear about how public sector workers are finally feeling what private sector employees have faced for a long time. 

With the downturn in the economy the conservative faction of the GOP saw an opportunity to drive the wedge between workers even deeper.  Private sector employees were hurt financially by the poor economy while public workers maintained their level of financial stability.  While this may be true, what can't be ignored is the growing separation between the wealthy and the rest of Americans.  Our wealthiest citizens have not been adversely affected by the struggling economy, on the contrary they have benefited greatly.  Separating workers into competing camps profits the wealthy.  If they can break the public unions then their domination of the employer/employee relationship will be nearly complete.

If we follow the conservative logic a reasonable question becomes, why should public employees be allowed to unionize?  In their opinion the answer is clear, public employees don't need, nor should they be allowed to unionize.  However, my response to that question is different.  I would state that not only should public employees be allowed to unionize, but all employees should enjoy the benefits that organizing a union can provide.  If all workers enjoyed the benefits that unionized workers have battled for we would see a better standard of living, an improved economy and a more equal society.  Isn't that a series of goals that any political party should be supportive of?

If conservatives are against public sector unions, does that mean that they support private sector labor organizations?  The short answer is a resounding, NO, the current strand of conservatism being pushed by GOP leaders like Walker is very anti-labor.  Most union members, public or private, see that if Wisconsin's public unions are defeated then we will see more extreme anti-worker legislation here in the future.  Right-to Work and other measures will become the law of the land and all employees will face a labor market controlled by management.

While the anti-labor agenda is not new to our political landscape (take the late 1800's for example) the efforts to legislate the labor-management relationship have intensified recently.  This has created an atmosphere of intense conflict, and which points us towards a future where labor-management clashes will be more extreme because of a lack of an impartial and fair dispute resolution mechanism.  Walker's agenda ends a period of relative labor peace and replaces a system that has been gradually built over time.  A system that resulted from negotiations and compromise between labor and management.  A system that is widely accepted and supported by mainstream America.  Dwight Eisenhower stated this sentiment when he said,  "Should any political party attempt to abolish social security and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history.  There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes that you can do these things, but their number is negligible and they are stupid."

Wisconsin is a state with a long tradition of active engagement in the struggle for worker's rights.  The people here "get it" and that is one of the reasons that we have seen such a strong response to the Walker-led attacks on unions.  Public and private sector union members along with non-unionized citizens stood together at the capital and exercised their 1st Amendment rights by signing recall petitions in astounding numbers.  This battle is not just about unions, but unions play a huge role in the resistance. 

Not only should public workers have the right to organize themselves in unions, but the unions they belong to should have the same rights as those enjoyed by the private sector.  Looking at the letter that FDR wrote we can see that there is a context which conservatives fail to give when using the quoted portion of the letter.
See below the full text of FDR's letter.  Note that he is supportive of public sector unions, but sees some limitations.  Most importantly he views "militant action" as something that public workers should not engage in.  In Wisconsin strikes by public workers are already illegal.  

My dear Mr. Steward:
As I am unable to accept your kind invitation to be present on the occasion of the Twentieth Jubilee Convention of the National Federation of Federal Employees, I am taking this method of sending greetings and a message.

Reading your letter of July 14, 1937, I was especially interested in the timeliness of your remark that the manner in which the activities of your organization have been carried on during the past two decades "has been in complete consonance with the best traditions of public employee relationships." Organizations of Government employees have a logical place in Government affairs.

The desire of Government employees for fair and adequate pay, reasonable hours of work, safe and suitable working conditions, development of opportunities for advancement, facilities for fair and impartial consideration and review of grievances, and other objectives of a proper employee relations policy, is basically no different from that of employees in private industry. Organization on their part to present their views on such matters is both natural and logical, but meticulous attention should be paid to the special relationships and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the Government.

All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters.

Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of Government employees. Upon employees in the Federal service rests the obligation to serve the whole people, whose interests and welfare require orderliness and continuity in the conduct of Government activities. This obligation is paramount. Since their own services have to do with the functioning of the Government, a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable. It is, therefore, with a feeling of gratification that I have noted in the constitution of the National Federation of Federal Employees the provision that "under no circumstances shall this Federation engage in or support strikes against the United States Government."
I congratulate the National Federation of Federal Employees the twentieth anniversary of its founding and trust that the convention will, in every way, be successful.
Very sincerely yours,

While there are specific issues that are different for public workers compared to private sector workers, the fact remains that public workers need to organize to protect themselves.  The actions by Governor Walker, the Wisconsin Legislature and the Judicial System of Wisconsin have created the basis for a system that will not benefit public workers or the citizens of Wisconsin who rely on the public workers for many vital services. 

We have seen the rights of private sector workers pushed aside so that the labor market can be more "competitive" and less regulated.  At the same time real wages for workers have declined and salaries of CEO's have risen astronomically.  The GOP would have us believe that unions are the reason our economy has faltered.  Conservatives have tried to create an environment where people look down on organized laborers as being un-American.  At the same time they have done everything possible to create a management friendly environment where people are so thankful to have any job that they won't speak out against unfair practices.    

The lines are drawn and the odds are against organized labor.  However, that has been the case all through history.  Since the days of ancient Egypt when workers constructing the great pyramids organized a strike labor has fought for better conditions and fair wages.  We will continue that fight here in Wisconsin and across the United States.  This is a battle for our present, but also for the future of everyone who is not part of the wealthiest few.  It is our job to make sure that all citizens understand this whatever their job.  Public or private sector means much less than the brotherhood and sisterhood of labor.  All labor deserves and must demand respect.

It's Not Working…
With all the attention focused on unions and labor issues we can't forget that the policies of the Walker administration are not succeeding.  In other words, don't believe the hype that will be put forward in press releases and advertisements.  Not only are his economic policies failing, but other legislation passed by our GOP dominated government is clearly harmful to many Wisconsinites.

Buy Local…
Along with organizing and sharing information it is also important that every person is careful who they give their money to.  Corporations and all businesses are driven by profits and are vulnerable to the consumer.  While it may seem like a small thing, making a simple change and buying a different product is a strong statement in the battle to restore the rights of all citizens.  Companies are noticing and making changes in how they go about their business.   

This Facebook page and website has lists of products and companies that support anti-worker and other similar lobbying organizations.  Look the lists over and see where you can make a change in your purchasing habits.  Do you really want to donate your money to ALEC?

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