The political adage is correct: elections have consequences. We know about the takeover of the House by Republicans and the hit Democrats will take in the reapportionment process. But, the greatest threat to the American Dream is going to come from a determined assault on the labor movement.
The New York Times has this today, a story that has been covered before but has new specifics:
Faced with growing budget deficits and restive taxpayers, elected officials from Maine to Alabama, Ohio to Arizona, are pushing new legislation to limit the power of labor unions, particularly those representing government workers, in collective bargaining and politics.
For example, Republican lawmakers in Indiana, Maine, Missouri and seven other states plan to introduce legislation that would bar private sector unions from forcing workers they represent to pay dues or fees, reducing the flow of funds into union treasuries. In Ohio, the new Republican governor, following the precedent of many other states, wants to ban strikes by public school teachers.
Some new governors, most notably Scott Walker of Wisconsin, are even threatening to take away government workers’ right to form unions and bargain contracts.
"We can no longer live in a society where the public employees are the haves and taxpayers who foot the bills are the have-nots," Mr. Walker, a Republican, said in a speech. "The bottom line is that we are going to look at every legal means we have to try to put that balance more on the side of taxpayers."
Of all the new governors, John Kasich, Republican of Ohio, appears to be planning the most comprehensive assault against unions. He is proposing to take away the right of 14,000 state-financed child care and home care workers to unionize. He also wants to ban strikes by teachers, much the way some states bar strikes by the police and firefighters.
Let's be very clear about this. The attack against public sector unions is an attack on you and me, whether you work in the public sector or not. And if we don't see that, if we allow the bogus arguments about the wages and pensions of public sector workers being at the heart of our state fiscal crisis, then, we will end up paying the price.
Twenty years or so ago, many of us argued that so-called "free trade" was a threat to every person, whether your job was directly in the cross-hairs of a company ready to pick up and move to China. People scoffed--and, frankly, many people in the public sector thought, "that 'free trade" stuff is not my problem--government jobs can't move abroad." Yes, it is true--government jobs can't move, mostly, abroad (I say, "mostly" because you can still outsource billing and computerization work).
But, so-called "free trade" is the same side of the coin as the attack against public sector workers.
It is a single message put out by the people who push the levers of the economy: we want a world where no one has any semblance of protection at work. You don't get to belong to a union. You don't get to fight for a decent paycheck or pension. And, instead, it's every man and woman for his or herself and everyone is going to work for a steadily declining paycheck with no benefits--and what we, the corporate and financial elite, decide is fair.
We have, as I've pointed out, reached a completely upside-down world, an insane world in which the people--the workers--who have been robbed are being asked to foot the bill. Our economy has been drained of its great wealth by a systematic looting that has gone on for 30 years. In the most recent chapter of the economic crisis, a group of incompetent, greedy financiers obliterated trillions of dollars of wealth and cast millions of people out of their jobs.
And who should pay for this robbery, this foolishness, this immoral behavior?
The people who got screwed. The people who had nothing to do with triggering the economic crisis and were innocent by-standers.
Part of the problem, frankly, rests with our own party and some of the dumb rhetoric we buy into. We have Democrats and even former union leaders who are selling the phony deficit and debt "crisis". We have people trying to sell completely dumb slogans like "shared sacrifice". Many don't even realize, I think, how they have simply bought the framing of this debate--and are harming the very people I am sure they believe they speak for.
It's worth quoting here the criticism made by Pastor Martin Niemöller of the German intellectuals who ignored the Nazi rise to power in the 1930s: "In Germany they first came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me —and by that time no one was left to speak up."
For all of those who are being swept up by the hysteria of the deficit and debt "crisis" and those calling for shared sacrifice and those who are wagging their fingers at public workers for getting decent pay and benefits, be very very clear:
They are coming for you.
UPDATE 12:52 EASTERN--some commenters, only a few, would like us to live in the fantasy-based world of "extraordinary" benefits and pensions for public workers. Except they do not want to give actual data. So, I will--
Lavish pensions for teachers? In California, the average pension for a retired teacher with more than 30 years of service is $5,526. That’s a "high-end" pension: a bit over $66,000 a year. Shoot across the country to Maryland’s Carroll County school district and you’ll find this: if a teacher with a Masters degree, who has worked for 25 years at the top salary of $76, 895, decides to call it a career at age 62, the teacher’s annual pension would be $28,605 plus Social Security. Yup: totally yacht-buying, Mercedes-driving, private-plane flying retirement, huh?
A teacher in Kentucky? Well, retiring at 62 with 25 years on the job gets you an annual pension of $32,920—but you don’t get Social Security (some states have crazy laws that bar a teacher from getting both his or her modest public pension—that goldmine of $32,920—and Social Security).
Those are actual numbers. You can call them generous. I don't think so. I think some people will view even the higher-end pension of $66,000 as "generous" only in the context of the screwing of so many people in other parts of the economy who have no pensions. I, for one, am happy to pay taxes that will go to a teacher who has educated kids for 30 years so that teacher can live a modestly, poverty-free (and that is close to the edge) retirement.
UPDATE #2 4:29 EASTERN: I am scheduled to appear on the Larry Kudlow Show tonight on CNBC at about 7:45 pm Eastern time to debate this very topic.