A standoff is brewing in Madison, Wisconsin, over Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s divisive proposal to cut union rights for state workers. Walker says the cuts are necessary to bridge the state’s growing budget gap, while throngs of protesters have gathered to oppose the cuts, and state legislators have fled to avoid a vote. Here’s our quick breakdown of the basics.
In 1911, exactly a century ago, Wisconsin enacted America’s first state income tax, a tax-the-rich move initially proposed, a few years earlier, by the state’s innovative progressive Republican governor, Robert La Follette.
Now another Wisconsin Republican governor is trying to make history — in the opposite direction. The newly elected Scott Walker isn’t just demanding pay and benefit givebacks from the state’s public employees. He’s pushing labor law changes that would, if enacted, essentially drive their unions out of business.
But Wisconsin workers are trying to make some history, too. They mobilized last week, in record numbers, to stop Walker’s plan.
Last week, in a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, President Obama pledged that the federal budget he unveils this week will take “domestic discretionary spending down to the lowest share of our economy since Eisenhower was president.”
No one in the chamber audience cheered, mainly because chamber types don’t trust Obama when he talks budget cuts. But the rest of us shouldn’t be cheering either. If we’re going to be heading back to the Eisenhower era, we have much better options for what we ought to be trying to emulate.
We could, for instance, make an effort to replicate those economic arrangements of the 1950s most responsible for that era’s record prosperity — and equality.
Since the 80s many employers have stopped offering health care, pensions and other benefits to their employees. Many are also cutting pay and hours, while increasing the workload. So more and more people are hurting. As more and more of us fall further and further behind, corporate/conservative propagandists use resentment to drive anti-union feelings. They tell people to oppose unions, saying, “Why should they have it so good?” The real question you should ask is, “Why should we have it so bad?”
You can barely open a newspaper or turn on a radio without hearing about states and local governments bankrupted by high-paid public employees, their pensions and their unions. How much of what you are hearing is really true, and how much is just one more Wall Street-funded campaign to turn people against each other and our government?
What do we see if we look around at the state of the economy? Stocks are soaring, corporate profits are way up, Wall Street gets trillions in bailouts and pays millions upon millions in bonuses. But regular people are having a hard time making ends meet and unemployment is still through the roof. Instead of programs to create jobs, stop foreclosures and rebuild our crumbling infrastructure the government passes more tax cuts for the rich. A few Wall Street and big-corporate types are getting very rich (richer) at the expense of the rest of us. If you are sitting pretty on Wall Street, you probably don’t want people thinking about these contrasts too much.