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Class War in Madison? Not so fast… (Part two)

February 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Call me unnecessarily skeptical about these things, but when I run into a narrative that fits neatly into my assumptions I immediately begin to question my assumptions.

The cartoonish battle unfolding in Madison just does not hold up to scrutiny: we have unions that are not unions and only exist because the state of Wisconsin granted them the right to organize the labor force. These unions have no protection under the law and were expressly excluded from the Wagner and Taft-Hartley slave labor acts.

We also have two-bit players in the oil industry, who, despite resounding rejection in an election contest, have managed to rise to the position of the cutting edge of the capitalist onslaught against labor — setting the agenda of the fascist State.

Excuse me, but, as a jury member, I am not buying the circumstantial evidence.

I often like to surf Marxist sites and tweak their noses by crapping on their archaic analysis of the world around them. Despite years of painful self-examination these Marxists insist on donning the blinders worn by generations of predecessors regarding the State.

In a recent foray, I visited the Kasama site to see how they were covering the events in Madison and was greeted with pretty much the same insipid analysis as that presented by labor historian and author Peter Rachleff in the first section of this piece. One writer, Felix Dzerzhinsky, has called for, “Two, three, many Wisconsins”; a play on Che Guevara’s call for revolutionaries to emulate Vietnam in its resistance to American imperial aggression in the 1960s. Of the prospect for a successful outcome in Wisconsin, Dzerzhinsky dutifully writes:

All of this could change for the better or worse tomorrow. Everything depends on the ability of workers to maximize the disruption of business as usual in the state: keep the Capitol shut down, keep as many schools as possible closed and teachers and sympathetic students at the Capitol or in the streets, etc. The rest of the country is watching, and the activists among us are wondering if we’ll be able to reproduce this level of constructive anger in response to the attacks that we face.

Predictable Marxist pap, but what is interesting about Felix’s analysis — why I am fascinated by it — and what escapes most of the idiots on the Left, with their knee-jerk support for the Potemkin village unions currently battling Walker’s assault, is that Felix alone seems to have an inkling that defense of these worthless company unions was precisely the wrong place to begin the fight against austerity.

Why has Wisconsin risen up? I’m happy to report that they were able to start in a place where I suggested we not start: with a militant defense of the rights of public-sector workers. Economic hard times, I wrote, mean that this is a bad place to start, because so much of the public resents public-sector workers who have benefits that they do not have. Better to defend public-sector workers only in the context of a broader fight against service cuts, I said, and then we need to put the demand to make the rich pay at front-and-center, lest we lose too many people to capital’s mystifications about taxes. I still think a lot of this holds true going forward, but I also think I underestimated the catalytic potential of public-sector workers. After all, their unions are still the big battalions of the fight to defend public services. And perhaps more crucially, no matter where you are, everyone knows a teacher. Everyone knows a city trash collector or state worker. Everyone knows a firefighter; they were exempt from Walker’s direct attack, but they know the meaning of solidarity, and are aware that their own bargaining positions will be weakened if other unions are weakened, so they showed up at the Capitol in some strength. And yes, everyone knows a cop: they were also exempt from Walker’s attacks, but reports indicate that plenty of them showed up to support the other unions as well — out of uniform, of course, but thereby marking the first time you were ever grateful to see a plainclothes policeman at a demonstration.

Despite his insight regarding the danger of letting the battle against austerity turn into a battle for the defense of the public unions, Felix welcomes this disastrous turn of events. The reason why this is a disaster still holds, he acknowledges, but, blinded by the apparent numerical strength of these fictitious unions, and their enthusiasm, he gets swept up in the unfolding events.

Moreover, it never seems to occur to Felix that this was the entire motive of Walker’s unnecessary, and wholly gratuitous, attempt to remove the bargaining rights that, as I have already shown, the public unions never really had in the first place. The attack on bargaining rights was an ambush; a deliberate provocation designed to bring the unions into the streets. Walker wanted to goad the public unions into a fight they could not win so he could paint them as the face of the public sector. The public unions are to serve as the black welfare queen of the 21st Century — the racist stereotype of the single mother introduced by the Reagan administration — and which stereotype was confirmed by President William Clinton when he signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act into law — with the strategic placement of smiling black women on either side of him.

The union leaders — instead of warning their members, and admitting the reality of the unions’ cardboard existence — led them into a fight in which they are outclassed and have already lost.

Is it possible to recover from this disaster? Frankly, it doesn’t look good.

According to Kasama, “The 97-union South Central Federation of Labor voted Monday night to prepare for a general strike that would take place if Gov. Scott Walker succeeds in enacting his budget repair bill, which would strip most bargaining rights from most public employee unions.” Only about 15% of workers in Wisconsin are covered by unions — a percentage that is higher than the average for the United States, but down from the more than 20% union membership rate in 1989. Moreover, a spokesman for the Federation was unclear on how many of its 385,000 members would actually take action, nor did he give an estimate of how many of the more than 2.2 million non-union labor force could be expected to join.

Finally the spokesman provided little information on what strike action would take place or its target:

“It doesn’t mean that everyone is going to stop working on a particular moment or day,” Aniel said. “It means that we are preparing so that the decisions are made in a very significantly different way so that it protects the people of Wisconsin.”

But some services would be shut down, he said. The labor group would still have to determine which services would be shut down, he added.

“If it was decided the governor’s mansion really wasn’t that important and it wasn’t that important to heat it or give it electricity or to guard it, then those things wouldn’t happen,” Aniel said.

Two or three more disasters like this? We can only hope not.

To be continued

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Class War in Madison? Not so fast… (Part one)

February 23, 2011 1 comment

The battle lines seem familiar enough: on the one hand we have a coalition of the most regressive right wing forces who have set out to destroy unions and the rights of labor generally; and who appear intent on driving wages to levels commensurate with those of the age of robber barons. On the other hand, a coalition of unions who are bearing the brunt of this unrelenting assault, and who, inspired by events in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya are making a determined stand against it.

Labor historian and author Peter Rachleff provides us with an overview of the forces arrayed in this battle, which, at first glance, seems less like David and Goliath, and more like a collision of two massive powerful sumo wrestlers:

WITH THE Koch Brothers footing the bill for his campaign, Scott Walker assumed the governorship of Wisconsin on January 7, 2011. Walker’s first action as governor was obeisance to the corporate class that that put him in office: he gave $140 million in tax breaks to businesses, including WalMart, and then screamed “budget crisis!” This move allowed him to introduce his “budget repair bill,” which would require state workers to pay $5,000 to $7,000 a year towards their health insurance benefits and pensions.

Uninformed, public-sector-bashing Walker supporters see this as an overdue come-down in public sector workers’ unfair advantages. But the scope of Walker’s bill is much broader than public sector wages, benefits and unions. It is a salvo in the broader Republican war against working people and all unions, proposing radical positions in the right’s plan to create a permanent under-class of non-unionized workers: 1) reduce public employee collective bargaining strictly to wages; 2) prohibit all public employee strikes (the National Guard is on stand-by in Madison); 3) eliminate automatic deductions for union dues; 4) limit collective bargaining contracts to one year; and finally, 5) require union members to vote each year to “re-certify” bargaining units.

Of course, the bill also proposes cuts in public education and public services. And right behind Walker’s “budget repair bill” is an additional bill to make Wisconsin a “right-to-work” state, which would severely limit the powers of private-sector unions. The one-two punch.

Giddy with the alignment of Republicans behind him in the House and Senate, Walker called a special session to demand immediate passage of his “budget repair bill.” Simultaneously, he sent a letter to every state worker, warning that there would be no extensions of current contracts beyond March 13–a decree which would eliminate collective bargaining. He declared all of this non-negotiable.

Look for the Union Label

The sheer breadth and depth of Walker’s comprehensive demands on the unions should be enough to alert us that, though formally appearing as equals on the plain of battle, the unions are far from equal to the forces Walker has deployed against them. Walker has essentially demanded that the unions cease to exist: constantly fight for their life as organizations by stripping off the routine automatic deductions that fund their operations; seek annual recertification from their members; and make it impossible for them to enforce any of their demands by threat of strike. Such demands as he made would be unthinkable had Walker confronted labor organizations capable of fighting back and both willing and determined to bring Wisconsin government to its knees to defend themselves and their members.

Simply placing these demands on the unions, Walker exposed them as coddled, dependent in-house organizations, that survive and operate only at the pleasure of the State. The demands are excessive not by reason of the comprehensiveness of the  ultimatum, but because the comprehensiveness of the demands themselves demonstrate how little need there was for the demands in the first place. These organizations were never unions, they were in-house organs for the management of public employees by the State.

The Union-busting Kochtopus from Hell

If you want poster boys for the Right-wing conspiracy against working people, you need look no further than Charles and David Koch. Name an organization on the Right that wants to strip workers’ rights and turn the economy into a vassal-state of Capital, and more than likely you have named an organization receiving contributions from the Koch Brothers.  They have been linked to astroturf organizations like Americans for Prosperity, Patients United Now, Citizens for a Sound Economy, and Citizens for the Environment.

According to the Wiki:

Charles and David Koch also have been involved and have provided funding to a number of other think tanks and advocacy organizations: They provided initial funding for the Cato Institute, they are key donors to the Federalist Society, and also support the Mercatus Center, the Institute for Humane Studies, the Institute for Justice, the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution, the Institute for Energy Research, the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment, Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the George C. Marshall Institute, the Reason Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute.

With billions of dollars at their disposal and a family history of extreme Right-wing causes — including the founding by Papa Fred Koch of the John Birch Society — the family has long been opponents of the post-war statist agenda.  In 1980, Charles Koch was candidate for president on the Libertarian Party ticket and has long advocated not only the abolition of Social Security, but also public education and even the Central Intelligence Agency. In the 2010 election cycle, according to the wiki, the Koch Brothers backed Scott Walker’s campaign and one of their related organizations, Americans for Prosperity, lobbied for Walker’s public union-busting plan.

Today, Charles and David Koch must feel a little like a young black man on trial: convicted of an as yet unknown crime before the trial has even started.  On the Left, almost unanimously, they are being singled out as the chief instigator of the unrelenting assault on the company unions in the public sector. Somehow, against alleged widely held, long-standing, liberal society expectations, these minor bit players in the oil industry, who barely garnered one percent of the vote in the 1980 presidential election, have managed to change the terms of the debate in all of society against the public unions who compose half of all unionized workers in the country.

Frankly, I smell a frame-up.

To be continued

A brief pause from bitch-slapping Paul Krugman to focus on Soviet and American political-economy

February 22, 2010 5 comments

Do us a favor: Take off your ideological blinders; suspend the effects of your years of instruction in the indoctrination camps known as the American education system for just a moment.

We’re going to let you in on a secret: Despite what you have heard and been taught all your life, there was, in fact, very little difference between the economy of the United States and that of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

That’s right. Do you need to sit down and catch your breath? Breathe, breathe … Better?

O.K. Let’s continue.

Read more…

The case for bitch-slapping Saint Paul until he wets his panties: When Harry met Josef

February 20, 2010 1 comment

Harry S. Truman and Josef Stalin

As we stated in The case for bitch-slapping Saint Paul until he wets his panties: Dog whistle economics…, Paul Krugman’s support of a higher inflation target by the Federal Reserve is nothing more than a call to reduce still further your standard of living – to break you with starvation in order to fluff up the profits of American corporations. His reputation aside, the support of this policy results in just the consequences we stated.

That the left continues to tolerate him in their midst is a damning admission of their intellectual poverty.

In support of this view we have introduced the case of the Soviet Union, and no doubt this confused you: Wasn’t the Soviet Union a command economy? Did they not declare themselves socialists – or, still worse, communists – and avowed enemies of all things capitalist? What possible parallels can there be in the economies of the two countries?

In the Messiah’s 2010 Economic Report of the President, we find these words:

Chapter 4 examines the transition from consumption-driven growth to a greater emphasis on investment and exports. It discusses the likelihood that consumers will return to saving rates closer to the postwar average than to the very low rates of the early 2000s. It also describes the Administration’s initiatives to encourage household saving. Greater personal saving will tend to encourage investment by helping to maintain low real interest rates. The increased investment will help to fill some of the gap in demand left by reduced consumption.

The report highlights the “Administration policies, such as investment tax incentives, designed to promote private investment.

It’s a hoot, and if you by chance are in need to a sleeping aid, you just might want to crack it open and feel your eyelids slam shut within fifteen minutes – mouth open, plaster cracking, full-bore snoring, baby! It is the stuff of which boiler-plate is made – the kind of crap that passes for economic policy on the campaign trail, and in town meetings staged for television, with some portion of the audience employed as a prop behind the speaker. Politicians are for investment, in much the same way they are for national security, the flag, and family values.

For politicians, every economic problem afflicting society can be fixed if we just encourage more investment.

Read more…

The case for bitch-slapping Saint Paul until he wets his panties: Dog whistle economics…

February 18, 2010 Leave a comment

When politicians want to say something about “those people” yet wish to remain within the bounds of civil conversation, they will often employ certain code words that allow them to express their actual position while remaining open to ambiguous interpretation. The Wiki defines the dog whistle this way:

Dog-whistle politics, also known as the use of code words, is a term for a type of political campaigning or speechmaking which employs coded language that appears to mean one thing to the general population but has a different or more specific meaning for a targeted subgroup of the audience. The term is invariably pejorative, and is used to refer both to messages with an intentional subtext, and those where the existence or intent of a secondary meaning is disputed.

In economics right now there is a dog whistle conversation being carried behind your back. The expressed subject of this conversation is whether the Federal Reserve should explicitly set a higher target for inflation and attempt to achieve this higher target as a matter of policy. The conversation is dry, technical, and purposely so, since it is designed to discourage you from joining in or even noticing it.

The conversation, however, is really about how far to go in breaking you with the threat of starvation.

We covered one side of this conversation in the post, The case for bitch-slapping Saint Paul until he wets his panties…, in which we focused on Paul Krugman’s argument that increasing the target for inflation would make it easier for Washington to collapse your wages, and increase corporate profits: You are less likely to notice the deterioration of your standard of living if your wages stay the same while the prices of everything you buy goes up. And, inflating away your income is preferable to a company-wide announcement that everybody has to take a 10 percent pay cut – except, of course, the CEO, his/her gang of bandits, and the company’s bond, and shareholders.

Read more…

The case for bitch-slapping Saint Paul until he wets his panties…

February 16, 2010 1 comment

Remember back in the good ole days when a white man could beat a black child with impunity?

We do. We remember Willie Corgan emerging from the coat room at the back of the class with his fists clenched in agony, and tears streaming from his eyes, closely followed by our sixth grade teacher, his beating stick in hand.

Willie was a fuckup who could not stay out of trouble with that white man.

Our teacher would keep track in the corner of his blackboard of the number of disruptions each of us created in class, and on Fridays it would be time to settle up. You would be administered a severe whipping across the fingertips with a long thin piece of wood – probably bamboo or some other reed – which the teacher kept in a jar of some liquid, assuming, we imagine, that the moist tip would intensify the pain of our thrashing.

We usually never accumulated more than two or three stars apiece – it took three stars to be invited into the coat room with the teacher. In one week, however, Willie accumulated 18 stars.

Willie would not be broken.

On Friday, each of us would sit patiently in class until it was our turn to be called. Willie always had the honor of going first; like Greece, only smaller, younger and black.

Read more…

The Angry Bear stalker defense: Dems should ignore Scott Brown’s victory…

January 31, 2010 Leave a comment

The Angry Bear blog has a different take on the question raised by the BBC: Why voters vote against their own interests? The answer given by Angry Bear is hardly more satisfying than that given by the BBC, but the conclusion adds a slight twist. To paraphrase the conclusion:

She may not be all that into you, but she is confused about what she does want, so ignore her screams.

Harsh, right?

We apologize again for being an asshole here, Maggie, but we think you need to reconsider your conclusion. Angry Bear presents some pretty compelling evidence that the voters in Massachusetts were all over the map with regard to the current attempt at health insurance reform in Washington – if reform is the correct word for what is happening. The voters seem pretty certain that health insurance is important to everyone, but believe they do not have the responsibility to assure access to insurance for everyone. They are, it is clear by the polling data, being selfish rude uncaring dicks. Which is not an all that surprising observation about Massachusetts voters, who have the uncanny ability to forget that anyone else exists once the are safely seated inside their horribly overpriced raised ranch, on their Bob’s Discount Furniture sectional, in front of their 42 inch, wide-screen, high-definition plasma television, watching American Idol.

The fact is, Massachusetts voters really are mostly selfish rude uncaring dicks.

They spend an inordinate amount of time listening to shock radio neo-Nazi Jay Severin spout on about crimnaliens, and other darker peoples of low intelligence, morals, and greater than average proclivities toward debasing society and its laws. As neighbors, they are not nice people, and, frankly, it is almost physically revolting to spend much time with them and listen to them drone on endlessly about sports scores and other inanities which seem to have near sacred import within the local culture.

That Harvard and other institutions of higher learning are co-located with them, is less an argument for Boston culture than it an argument for really good zoning laws.

Despite that, Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly sent Obama to Washington to change it. They did not know what change looked like – their vision was incoherent at best and dangerously fascistic at its worst. But, they sensed, in some dimly understood fashion short of what might be called a consciousness of themselves as a distinct social class in society irreversibly in opposition to the empire, that Washington does not function in their interests. And when the “change” Obama undertook in Washington fell short of this dimly understood sense, they sent Scott Brown to reemphasize the message.

It is a jumble – a mess – a chaotic mixture of near meaningless data which grows less meaningful when laid out in the form of exit polls and followup interviews. But, the gist of the meaning is clear: They hate Washington.*

Please, Maggie, et al. Pretend the voter is your date. You have to listen to her screams: She just not into you, and a hand over her mouth isn’t going to change that.

* Note: Okay. They may not yet be to the point where they hate Washington, but they are as deeply suspicious of the motive of Washington politicians as any of the new voters Obama brought into the process.