Workers Must Stand United as Right Wing Launches All Out Attack on Unions

March 2011 - As crowds of more than 50,000 union workers swarmed the Wisconsin state capitol recently to protest that state’s Republican governor’s attack on them, a Republican Congressman from Wisconsin named Paul Ryan mused, “It’s like Cairo has moved to Madison.”

He wasn’t far wrong. Yes, a Republican Congressman was comparing union workers to the repressed Egyptian people demanding basic human rights, while likening Republican Governor Scott Walker to ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak, who had denied them those rights for decades.

It’s not just happening in Wisconsin. Emboldened by their victories around the country last November, right-wing Republican politicians have launched an all-out attack on working people by assaulting and trying to destroy their strongest advocates in the political arena, labor unions.

They claim they are merely trying to balance budgets, but that is such a transparent lie that it would be funny if the consequences weren’t so deadly serious.

In state after state where Republicans won gubernatorial elections and legislative majorities in 2010, the assault has commenced. In order to balance the budgets, unions must be crippled or destroyed and working people must pay the price, they insist.

Don’t believe it. None of this has anything to do with balanced budgets. It’s a power grab, pure and simple. These right-wing oligarchs long nostalgically for the days before unions, when working people had no voice in government, and the superwealthy could force hungry workers into a choice of starvation or slavery.

In Wisconsin, in fact, Walker, with his new Republican legislative majorities, worsened that state’s fiscal crisis by immediately ramming through big tax cuts for the wealthy. Now to remedy that deficit and pay for that windfall for the rich, he says, middle-class workers must accept cuts in their wages and benefits, and then, on top of that, surrender their right to collectively bargain!

New Republican governors in places like Ohio, Indiana, and Iowa, are making similar noises. And even here in California, a Republican state Assemblyman from Costa Mesa named Allan Mansoor has introduced a bill to weaken state workers’ collective bargaining rights.

As Nobel Prize winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman explains, the intent is to “make Wisconsin – and eventually America – less of a functioning democracy and more of a third-world oligarchy.” To bring about that oligarchy, wealthy right-wingers are funneling billions of dollars to cooperative politicians who will make their dream, and our nightmare, a reality.

Given that reality, he continues, “It’s important to have institutions that can act as counterweights to the power of big money. And unions are among the most important of these institutions.”

For the past 30 years, corporate-backed right-wing politicians have been assaulting unions and sadly, have taken a toll. It’s no surprise that as union membership has ebbed, real wages for working people have stagnated. Correspondingly, the richest one percent has hoarded a greater share of America’s wealth than at any time since the Great Depression, and had their taxes cut to boot.

But the Republicans still have the audacity to blame unions and workers. They argue that because they have managed to seriously damage the quality of life of non-union workers, it’s only fair that union workers’ suffering also increase.

What gall. We workers did not cause this crisis. It was caused, as Krugman points out, by the increasing power of America’s oligarchy. “After all, it was superwealthy players, not the general public, who pushed for financial deregulation and thereby set the stage for the economic crisis of 2008-09, a crisis whose aftermath is the main reason for the current budget crunch. And now the political right is trying to exploit that very crisis, using it to remove one of the few remaining checks on oligarchic influence.”

But Governor Walker and his ilk may have underestimated the extent to which we union workers will fight, together, united, as brothers and sisters for one another. After seeing the workers rise up in unity in Wisconsin, Republican governors in other states hastily retreated from hard-line stands.

The lesson is this. Anyone who believes in representative government, in which working men and women have a voice, needs to stand with us now and fight for it.

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