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Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Attack on the Middleclass

Our learned opinionators from the Conservative alternate universe, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and the passel of like-opined commenters, have been beating the drum and chanting that the American Middleclass and its way of life is under attack. They allege that Liberal policies and out-of-control government spending are to blame for the looming problems we are just beginning to experience. What they conveniently leave out of their presentations is that Republican politicians are poised to curtail and eliminate the modest gains that many American acquired during the past generation.

Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) seeks not only to bypass collective bargaining contracts with Wisconsin state public employees, but to legislatively eliminate their collective bargaining rights altogether. He wants the WI Legislature to directly dictate to the employees how much they will contribute to their pensions and for healthcare. Much like Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick and the other steel industry magnates of a 100 years ago, he seeks to have absolute control over the lives of his employees. In actuality, the state public employees work for the Governor who is like the CEO of the company.

Carnegie knew (opined) how much an employee's labor was worth based on the price he could get for a ton of steel and how many tons the employees could produce per unit of time. He also did not provide any health care coverage for the employees and relegated to poverty anyone who was unable to produce a day's work due to illness or injury. Change in those conditions required bloody conflicts between the striking workers and the private police the Company hired to beat down "those people who hate this society."

A single worker has zero influence to improve his/her economic condition. This employee can be summarily dismissed for any reason at all. A bargaining unit has only two tools in its kit for improving the working conditions and compensation of the members. First is the voice of reason and when that fails, the have the ability to stop work and wait for the employer to capitulate. Strike breaking has been a Republican goal from the beginning. The practice was epitomized when President Reagan fired all the striking Air Traffic Controllers during his Presidency. Striking PATCO employees were barred from being employed again in the air traffic control jobs which were and remain Federal jobs. Men and women seeking to improve their economic standing and improve air travel safety stood their ground and lost everything for it. The Republican attack was swift and exacting.

Republicans hate the public school system in this country and aver that it is inefficient, wasteful and rife with overpaid, under-performing teachers who cannot be fired because of tenure and teacher union control. What they do not say is that public schools do not allow the administration or individual teachers to conduct prayers in class and a public school board decides what can and cannot be taught to the children. Public school classrooms are beyond the reach of the Conservative Agenda. In private school classrooms, Creationism can be substituted for Evolution, children can be made to bow their heads and say a prayer or at least listen to one that is recited on their behalf.

Private school tuition can be as high as the parents are willing to pay for the education and the children of poorer parents can be economically relegated to lesser funded schools. Even in a society of inequitable distribution of educations funds, the conversion to a private system only further divides the population. People who are marginally middle class in the first place and whose only hope of improvement is the education of their children get pushed out and down.

The attack on the public education system is one where the Republican Agenda seeks to not spend money on anyone's children but their own. Tuition vouchers for paying for private school tuition are the Republican way of circumventing the diversity of a public school education. Conservatives lost control of the curriculum and therefore went after creating ways of not having to participate under that paradigm.

We must study our history to realize from where the American Middleclass came. It was the creation of the combined desires of millions of workers who wanted a larger part of the economic pie that the Aristocrat Class always enjoyed. Each improvement was a hard won victory over the barnacle encrusted old-money class who owned everything. Every gain for the middleclass was a loss on the balance sheet of business. A 40-hour work week limited the per-person productivity of a worker. Each paid day of vacation, holiday and annual leave was drawn from the purse of a business owner who felt that he was being robbed by a union thug. It was the unions that made all of the improvements possible. It was the unions that made the middle class possible. Without them, all workers would be at the mercy of the company and the willingness of another person to underbid his labor rate.

Under those conditions no one would ever be able to make a plan for the future. Without the ability to make a reasonable plan, no lender would be willing to fund a mortgage, a car loan, an education loan, etc. If at any time an otherwise competent worker could be discharged, have his income reduced, there is no stability to the economy.

What is being wrought upon the state and local employees in Wisconsin is nothing less than an attempt by an upstart newcomer to enter the picture and not honor the rules by which everyone else played up to now. Governor Scott Walker has rushed in and decided that the rules must immediately be changed. His threat to lay off 1500 employees at the beginning of March 2011 is only a small part of the plan to change the rules of the game. The follow-on threat to eliminate another 5000 jobs unless he gets the rule change through is a further threat to the middleclass. The state's budget shortfall of $137 million would cost each of the 2.08 million Wisconsin households less than $68.50. So instead of raising a "budget repair tax" of $68.50 he will gut the compensation packages of 175,000 employees by between $5000 and $10000 each. Actually, if only state employees were asked to pay the budget repair tax each would have to pay only $782.86.

There is a non-sequitur here. The elimination of collective bargaining rights has nothing to do with balancing the budget. It does have to do with shrinking the American Middleclass. The Middleclass has always been a thorn in the side of dictators, but never for a democracy.