Public workers in the bull’s-eye



When I was in basic training in the Army, we learned all about the bull's-eye. They marched us to the firing range with our M-16 rifles, and taught us that the bull's-eye was the heart of the target. If you hit the outer rings of the target, you might only wound your enemy. But if you hit the bull's-eye you bring your enemy down.

The 2010 election results and the resurgence of the corporate ultra-right mean renewed attacks on labor. Taking advantage of the economic crisis, the Republicans have placed public workers in the bull's-eye of their attack. Forget that the Great Recession was brought on by Wall Street gambling and corruption. Forget that the banking giants, the hedge funds, the insurance giants, the oil and energy companies, and the rest of big business are back to making out like bandits.

Of course, the Republican right launches these kinds of attacks on labor every time they have majorities. But this is much more than your run-of-the-mill, knee-jerk, anti-unionism. This time the attack is more like the McCarthyite anti-communism of the 1950s. Like McCarthyism, today's attack is a broad, sweeping ideological and legal attack on the democratic rights of labor and the working class. And while its current bull's-eye is public workers, its real target is organized labor and the working class as a whole. (And let's be clear, workers and the working class ARE the taxpayers.)

On the ideological side, deficits are caused by lazy, overpaid public workers, they argue. War budgets and tax breaks for the rich and corporations are not factors. Public employee pension funds and health care costs are bleeding federal and state governments dry. Ignore that pensions and health care are often negotiated in the place of pay raises, and are not gifts, but earned income.

In this mythical world, the public workers unions have way too much political and economic clout.

On the legal side is a barrage of anti-labor legislation at the state level. This includes right-to-work-for-less laws, laws to outlaw strikes by public workers including teachers, laws to strip public workers of collective bargaining rights, and efforts to weaken workers compensation laws and prevailing wage laws.

Another reason for putting the bull's-eye on public workers is they have a higher percentage of union membership than workers in private industry.

The target around the public workers bull's-eye is not just the organized labor movement. Remember "shrinking government small enough to drown in a bathtub?" That's at the heart of the deficits argument. Cutting programs that help the working class, like unemployment compensation, education and schools, environmental protection, health care, housing, food safety, and many more are the targets of the deficit hawks. Somehow deficits are not caused by military spending, corporate subsidies and in big business tax loopholes.

In any case, it is clear that the offensive against public workers has shifted to the state and local government arena for now. Now is the time for all good progressives to come to the aid of their local public workers. We have to, not only fight against this legal-legislative attack, but also fight against the ideological attack on workers.

Just as it took a broad democratic coalition to break the back of McCarthyism, so too will it take all who believe in democracy and basic labor rights to beat back this attack on public workers.

Photo: Firefighters and families rally in Portland, Ore. Firefighters, police and teachers are among the public sector workers in the corporate right-wing's crosshairs. (aflcio/cc


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  • On the eve of the MLK celebrations and rededications,we recall that our heroic working class,anti-war,anti-poverty,opponent of anti-communism and human rights icon,died protecting public workers,keeping them out of the bullseye,if you will.
    Also,we remember that his work was essentially anti-fascist,(in the wake of the fascistic murders in Arizona)facing "whites rights"groups,nazis,Klanners,racist and fascist governors,gay bashing gay F.B.I. heads,indifferent presidents,state troopers,state militias,state's rights fanatics,Birchers,C.I.A. murderers,and the like.
    Fortunately,for the whole people of the U.S.and the world,today it's a little different but not so,so much so.
    Today,whole municipal water works,sewage,electrification,roads,bridges,fire departments,police departments,health departments ,street departments,public transportation and communication,pension plans,city,county,regional,state and federal governments are at peril because of the "universal selfishness" W.E.B. Du Bois coined in 1961,called capitalism and imperialism.
    We need almost universal unity to combat our assaulters,but this unity is quite reasonable and possible,because everyone,including the imperialist White Masters of the World are willy-nilly,in the bullseye.
    Lets start to build,build and build this unity,now to continue our MLK legacy to stop the violence of war,guns,exploitation and the fascism it brings for future generations,before this "impending elegy" of war and fascism destroys human life.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 01/10/2011 1:53pm (4 years ago)

  • I totally agree with Scot's statement about who the real target is in this new concentrated attack on Labor and it's allies.
    In Chicago the cross hairs are aimed directly at the 30,000 member Chicago Teachers Union (AFT Loc. 1.) The attack is coming from all over the Country particularly Oregon.
    It comes in the form of a bill called "Performance Counts" which is on the fast track in the IL. State Legisture.
    We are at war with the billionaires, including Bill Gates, but we are fighting back with every ounce of breath by uniting with the National Education Association as well as our community allies.
    The fight to stop passage of this Union busting bill has just begun.

    Posted by Lance Cohn, 01/07/2011 12:58pm (4 years ago)

  • To Brent Smith,

    Great to hear from an public worker from Kentucky.

    You are so right. On your point about taxpayers not being treated well - not only are working people the primary taxpayers - especially since the Repub right-wing blocked taxing the rich - but the attack on public workers is also part of an all out attack on public services. Many of these public services are vital to survival for millions of unemployed workers and their families - facing hunger, homelessness and evictions, lack of health care, etc etc... in this time of severe economic crisis. Every furlough day you folks are forced to suffer also means that taxpayers are made to wait that much longer for help etc

    Thanks for speaking up.

    Posted by Scott Marshall, 01/07/2011 11:28am (4 years ago)

  • The attacks have already started. Here in KY the Senate is voting on a bill (SB 2) to eliminate the pension plan for new employees and create a "defined contribution" plan similar to 401(K) plans for new state employees. Meanwhile, the current pension plan continues to be severely underfunded. All this during a year of mandated "furloughs" (i.e. wage cuts) which impacted all state employees. Next fiscal year may include more "furloughs".

    Attacking state employees is an easy way for legislators to play the populist. They claim we make too much money, we don't work hard enough, and we get too many benefits. They point out that people's taxes pay for all these wonderful benefits, and how they, the fiscally responsible legislator, are going to save the people of KY from paying for the lazy freeloading state employee. Hidden behind this rhetoric is a regressive tax structure that burdens the poor and middle classes much more heavily than the wealthy and the corporations.

    As Republican Senator David Williams said: "state employees cannot expect to be treated better than their bosses, and their bosses are the taxpayers.” What taxpayers don't understand is that they are not being treated well at all.

    Posted by Brent Smith, 01/07/2011 10:45am (4 years ago)

  • It should be pretty clear to everyone how a change in the party control in Congress and at the state level has so dramatically changed the political conversation from offense to defense.

    Posted by Joel Wendland, 01/07/2011 7:40am (4 years ago)

  • To say "Republicans have placed public workers in the bull's-eye of their attack" covers up the class nature of this offensive.

    The go ahead signal for this attack was given by Obama's two year wage freeze on federal workers.

    So called "progressive" democratic governors Brown and Cuomo, in the nation's two largest states, are right in the middle of this attack yet go unmentioned in the article.

    Posted by wtillow, 01/07/2011 7:13am (4 years ago)

  • I think that defending public workers in 2011 puts us on the correct link in the chains of worker oppression. At the same time, I don't want for one moment to give up on fighting for a government jobs program for the 26M underemployed.
    Is it possible that both of those issues could be one? What about "protect and extend public jobs" as a slogan? In other words, save the public jobs we have now, AND add a government jobs program!
    --jim lane in dallas

    Posted by Jim Lane, 01/06/2011 4:43pm (4 years ago)

  • In New York State our new Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, backed by a vast Wall Street media warchest , is leading the charge against public workers.

    Finance capital rules both major parties. It isn't just the "Republican right."

    Posted by Thomas Kenny, New York, NY, 01/06/2011 2:12pm (4 years ago)

  • Wow! When is not a $200,000 a year prison guard in this NOT a glaring facet of racist & social oppression?

    There is a glaring general demand around the world for a guaranteed income providing food, clothing, shelter, education and transportation for every member of the global society on an equal basis.

    Though like "no-fault" auto insurance, programs which obviously have merit are always scuttled by the powerful minority with their death-lock on society; including the media they control which institutes ways of thought most advantageous to the autocratic plutocracy, sought to be maintained to the disadvantage and expense of all but the privileged few.

    A conservative if not reactionary minded, working class neighbor a few years ago, a butcher by trade; I could easily imagine attracted by such a deal as those prison guards are said to have; was vocal in suggesting to me that my SSDI/SSI income since more money than I'd been earning thirty years previously at minimum wage menial labor, greatly advantaged me; with his unspoken corollary this encouraged me not to work. Ignoring the effect of inflation on the dollar amounts involved as well as the corrosive effects of lack meaningful employment; this same person also advocated in behalf of war, as something creating technological advancement. A good example of the sort of programming done with those whose minds are open to that sort of readily available drivel and brainwashing-making me happy to be a vegetarian amongst other things.

    The need, is for a real good close look at the length, breadth and depth of public employees, their duties and positions. Jobs I think which can look attractive when the economy is in a nose dive; but, like the fifty year-olds manning the windows at fast-food drive-ups, positions often scorned in times of economic boom.

    What is starting to become the reality is people making long term careers of their minimum wage jobs at fast-food joints; with all the bizarre' sorts of psychological adjustments that entails. With a parallel phenomena in public service; suggestively reminiscent of Russian society under the czars...with increasing and vivid reminders of what that was to come to.

    Posted by Robert Jastad, 01/06/2011 1:32pm (4 years ago)

  • Well said, Scottie. I discovered many years ago, a little
    to my surprise (the late l940s) in the course of teaching some introductory Marxist classes, that most people thought of "fascism" as gas chambers and the loss of civil
    liberties. They did not understand fascism as really the
    total uninhibited exploitation of human labor power and
    social resources to enrich the few and fulfill their agenda
    of plunder and domination. That is why they needed
    scapegoats to divide the working population (Jews and Communists then), immigrants, "gypsies", people of color, etc more recently; oh yes, and railing against "liberals"....
    and labor. We need to highlight more that the argument
    isn't just with "labor" or "union policy" is aimed at the
    total exploitation of working people and denial of their
    social needs. It can happen under an "American" label.

    Posted by Betty Smith, 01/06/2011 11:37am (4 years ago)

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