Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Madison on My Mind

I grew up in Wisconsin, only an hour's drive from Madison. So I've watched the news of the growing demonstrations opposing the new Governor's attacks on a few of the state's public sector unions with a mix of awe and state pride. By now, everyone knows about the power struggle going on in my home-state's Capitol -- and quickly spreading across the rest of the Midwest too!

It's always impressive when masses of people turnout for change, and given the massive demonstrations in North Africa these last few weeks it's easy to get swept up in a sort of protest mania. But Madison isn't Cairo (no matter what privatization-loving, budget-cutting Rep. Paul Ryan says). And it's not clear whether these challenges against the collective-bargaining power of public sector unions across the country will galvanize the majority of workers who aren't unionized, much less the many who are still unemployed. And that's because too many people seem to have bought into the myth that public sector employees have it too good. And rather than unionize everywhere to organize for better benefits and more job security, some people who are suffering would rather stick it to the unions than the rich businesses (including Wisconsin companies like Harley Davidson) using the recession as an excuse to boost profits through labor-saving and automation -- aka laying off workers.

The issue flying under the radar in this whole debate about just how draconian state budget cuts will be is the fact that the so-called budget and deficit cutters want to simultaneously pad the pockets of their campaign funders. The first thing that Gov. Walker did when he got into office in January was cut taxes for businesses. And at the end of last year, unemployment insurance was held hostage to tax cuts for the rich.

Cutting seems to be the only budget agenda of the Right. State facing a budget deficit? Slash public programs that we all rely on during tough times. Cut pay and benefits for state employees. And cut taxes for the rich and corporations that are experiencing record profits and raking in huge bonuses? A commons economy can't be based on forcing state employees to accept benefit cuts while showering tax cuts on the rich.

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