Organized Labor Deserves Our SupportOrganized Labor Deserves Our Support
On Saturday, Feb. 26, over 100,000 teachers, police officers, firefighters, state troopers, students and activists filled the area in and around Wisconsin’s state capitol, protesting against Governor Scott Walker’s effort to strip public sector employees of their collective bargaining rights.
Why should this matter for Hunter students? It matters for every American. Not least of all, Americans of the lower-middle class that attend our affordable CUNY institution. For years, organized labor fought for lower- and middle-class American interests. Unions formed the backbone of the Democratic Party and ensured that all of the post-war prosperity didn’t solely benefit the already well off. At their peak, the labor movement included more than one-third of American workers.
Today that proportion has shrunk to just over one-tenth . And it’s no coincidence that, as labor unions have waned in influence, income inequality has skyrocketed and the middle class has shrunk. The showdown in Wisconsin, however, represents a dramatic turning point. Ostensibly, Governor Walker is only looking to alleviate Wisconsin’s budget woes. But labor has already agreed to large concessions, such as paying more for their healthcare benefits and into their pensions. Walker rejected those offers.
In reality, what Walker and his backers are trying to do is break labor’s back. I mention his backers because, as has already been widely reported, two of Walker’s biggest contributors during his election campaign were the infamous Koch brothers, billionaire twins who inherited their daddy’s company and use their money to support “libertarian” think tanks and politicians all over the country.
On a side note, has it ever been more apparent that libertarianism only enjoys the high profile it does in this country because it personally benefits the well-off? For every truly committed Ron Paul fanboy, there are dozens of cynical Koch types who support ideas like the “flat tax,” not out of any ideological commitment to liberty, but because it would further fatten their already overstuffed wallets.
If Walker succeeds, he paves the way for similar union busting from Ohio to New Jersey to Florida, which is why the outcome in Wisconsin is so important, and the pluck being shown by the labor movement there is so encouraging. It’s worth noting that police officers, firefighters and state troopers are actually exempted from Walker’s plan, but thousands have shown up in Madison anyway in a show of solidarity with their fellow workers. And despite record turnout for the protests, no arrests or incidents have been reported, not even so much as a littering problem.
In addition to all this, the American public, oddly enough, is solidly on labor’s side. According to a New York Times/CBS poll, 60% of Americans oppose Governor Walker’s effort to strip his state’s public sector workers of their collective bargaining rights, versus only 33% who support it. For all the noise made by the Tea Party, which is really only the traditional conservative base by a new and ridiculous name, the majority of this nation still recognize the vital role unions play in our society.
Walker has made a big show thus far of sticking to his guns. But Republicans of the Wisconsin State Senate are another story. Only 3 of them need succumb to public pressure for labor to declare victory. And victory would vindicate not only the labor and progressive movements in Wisconsin, but across the country. So by all means, if you’re interested in preserving or even revitalizing this country’s rich labor tradition, e-mail your local Wisconsin State Senator. Join local solidarity protests, such as one that recently took place outside City Hall. And make your opinion known to those around you, even if they’re already inclined to agree. To paraphrase Sophocles for our own era, “Without Labor, nothing prospers.”