Welcome to the “So-Be-It” Union

By Mark Gutis

“And if some of those jobs are lost in this, so be it.” – Speaker of the House John Boehner, February 15, 2011

If my memory does not fail me, I seem to recall the self-same John Boehner repeatedly saying through the run-up to the 2010 mid-term elections, “Where are the jobs?” Actually, my memory is just fine on this point. I’ve seen the montage of him saying that a number of times on the TV machine. Back in September Mr. Boehner proposed a two step plan for job creation: Pass a budget that costs only as much as the 2008 budget and extend the Bush tax cuts for everyone, including the wealthiest Americans. “Genius, I tells ya!” What’s new about this? Decreasing government spending and tax cuts for the rich have been the Republican/Right Wing/Conservative mantra since the “Reagan Revolution.” And as we all know, St. Ronald of Reagan told us all that government was the problem, not the answer. If the Bush tax cuts for the rich (which have now, sadly become the Obama tax cuts for the rich) worked so well for job creation, why haven’t we seen those jobs. Oh, wait. We have. We’ve seen them in China and in India and in Malaysia and in any number of non-U.S. locations.

When you look at the Speaker’s agenda in the House it is interesting to note how concerned the House Republicans have been with job creation. They voted to repeal the health care legislation passed last year, despite the fact that the health insurance and health care industries are booming and hiring thanks to that same legislation. There have been attempts tom redefine the meaning of rape. They intend to ban the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions (as the Supreme Court stated they had not only the right to do but the responsibility). They want to ban Federal money from being used for abortion (as if the Hyde Amendment doesn’t already do that). They have proposed legislation to allow members of the House to pack heat on the floor of the House. Quite the ambitious agenda. One question, though: Mr. Boehner. Where are the jobs?

The Speaker’s “so-be-it” quote is quite instructive when put into a larger context. That larger context is being played out in the state legislatures and governors’ offices of Wisconsin, Ohio, New Jersey and Florida and will undoubtedly be seen all over the country. That larger context is a concerted assault on state employee unions.

Why? Well, there are several reasons. The first is that labor unions, traditionally, back Democratic candidates and are extremely effective in getting out the vote. Arguably, Harry Reid’s victory against Sharron Angle was partly due to the effectiveness of the Nevada labor unions getting their members out to vote. Second, there is the Grover Norquist mantra of shrinking government to the point where he can drown it in a bathtub. Not having to deal with pesky state employee unions makes the job easier. There is an element of payback, both against the unions for supporting Democrats and channeling money to special interests that did (more on that last point in a bit). Finally, thanks to Citizens United v. FEC, with the coffers of the corporations freed to donate unlimited amounts of money in elections, the unions are the only organized entities on the progressive side that have any chance of countering these cash outlays.

(Full disclosure, here, folks. I have been a state employee for over 21 years and my wife recently retired after 29 years with a state agency. So aside from my political viewpoint, I am also potentially affected in a similar manner.)

It was less than ten years ago, in the wake of 9/11 that firemen, policemen and other first responders were being hailed as heroes. Flash forward to December 2010 when the Republican Party had to be shamed into funding health care for those same people. Even voices on Fox News, hardly a bastion of progressive thought, were critical of their callous opposition to helping these people who were sickened BECAUSE they were first responders. Gov. Chris Christie (Ann Coulter’s latest love muffin) is proposing that these same police and firemen who contributed money into pension funds that were used for other purposes should continue  to risk their lives and to work an extra five years to receive their pension benefits. He also wants them to receive no cost of living increase. That’s the same Chris Christie who made sure to pass a tax cut granting folks who make over $400K a year, a $1.2 Billion state tax cut to go along with their tens of billions in federal cuts.

In the Speaker’s own home state, a state hard hit by the off-shoring of manufacturing jobs, newly elected Republican Governor John Kasich has taken square aim at the unions. Kasich and Republican lawmakers made it clear that big changes are coming to the public employees collective bargaining law as the state looks to close an $8 billion budget gap. Kasich said if lawmakers don’t dismantle public employees collective bargaining then he will. “All this is rooted in job creation.” There are a couple of gems contained here. First, in order to close a budget deficit, the governor insists on dismantling collective bargaining. Interesting false equivalency there. But the best part is that it is all rooted in job creation. By casting the unions as greedy, the right wing is free to make the argument that they are standing in the way of helping create jobs for everyone else. And you thought doublespeak was just in Orwell’s 1984.

In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott (the same Rick Scott who was forced out of Columbia/HCA after it defrauded Medicare and ultimately agreed to repay the government of $600 million) wants to close a budget deficit by reforming the state pension plan while simultaneously rolling back property taxes. Those same state workers have gone three years without a salary increase. Scott said that it was only fair for state workers to pay in the way the private sector does. Once again we see the state employees cast as greedy and getting a better deal than the poor oppressed private sector workers.

And then we come to Wisconsin. Wisconsin is a state with a long and proud tradition of organized labor and organized state workers. Newly elected Gov. Scott Walker wants state workers to pay more for their pensions and health care, while taking away their unions’ collective bargaining power. The governor says he has no choice. Has no choice? Really? Interesting thing about Wisconsin is that when this governor took office, there was actually a budget surplus. (Kinda like when W was appointed president by the Supreme Court and found Clinton’s surplus.) In the month of January, he and the Republican-controlled legislature passed three tax giveaways that more than wiped out that surplus. Hey! Instant budget crisis! Wisconsin has become ground zero for the battle between radical right-wing ideologues more interested in breaking union power than in being fiscally responsible.

And isn’t it interesting how the crowds have been portrayed in the right-wing media? The tea-baggers hold a rally and they’re good Americans demonstrating against an oppressive and dangerous government. The state workers of Wisconsin demonstrate in Madison and they’re characterized as “riots” and “uprisings” and attacked as “thugs” who could “get violent” or even an extension of the coming Islamic Caliphate (just ask Glenn Beck). And while we’re on the subject, just this week Rush Limbaugh advocated that if the health care legislation was not repealed, well, let Rush’s own words speak for him. “After the election in November, repeal Obamacare, defund it all, doesn’t happen, number of other things that voters who sent all these freshmen to Washington to stop, arrest, cease and desist, if it doesn’t happen, we go Egypt on Obama.” But union workers demonstrating for their hard-earned rights are thugs.

Through all this they don’t tell you a few things. One thing is that state workers generally make 5-6% less money than comparable private sector workers. They are generally better educated than comparable workers in the private sector. And they’re not just talking about janitors and DMV workers. The right wing is railing against policemen, firemen, doctors, nurses…and, of course, teachers. They really do hate that public education system and what better way to attack it then to go after the public school teachers.

It’s all about power. Raw naked power. St. Ronnie’s dictum that government is the problem resonates even stronger now. The Republicans have no answers for any of the problems from which the country is suffering. All they want to do is continue to cut taxes. With lower tax revenues and tighter budgets, they then argue that government services must be eliminated or privatized. Defeat the labor unions and the progressive agenda becomes even more a distant mirage. Eliminate that get-out-the vote machine and the Democrats lose one of their greatest constituencies and allies. Destroy middle class America and labor and the corporatocracy can turn back the clock to the good old days.

“Mr. Boehner. Where are the jobs?” Oh, I forgot. That’s not part of your agenda….