Walk Like an Egyptian
By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson
In his first few weeks in office, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed tax cuts that will add about $120 million to his state’s deficit over the next two years. Wisconsin’s anticipated budget shortfall this fiscal year is $130 million.
To help pay for this deficit, Walker filed legislation to skin $30 million of that amount off the backs of the state’s unionized government workers, police and firefighters excluded.
For the past week, the US corporate-controlled media have portrayed the resulting outrage as pretty much confined to the state’s teachers. The reason is obvious: to pit blue-collar union members against their white-collar counterparts.
But the focus on Wisconsin’s teachers is as accurate as what the media did when the Tea Party made a day trip to Madison, the state capital and site of what was then an 8-day protest rally that had grown to some 70,000 people: on Saturday, until the sun went down and they went home, you’d have thought the Tea Partyers had taken over the capitol building and surrounding streets, so sparse was the reporting on what the state workers were saying.
When protesters filled Tahrir Square in Cairo, they were reported on as brave dissidents. When state and municipal union workers — maintenance workers, health care workers, garbage collectors, people who work with their backs and their sweat and, yes, teachers, too — do the same in Madison, they’re malcontents. Hosni Mubarak was an oppressor; Scott Walker is a beleaguered public official desperately trying to stave off financial disaster.
Clearly, the real intent behind Walker’s proposed legislation is union busting. Doubt that? Then explain this: the workers have already agreed to Walker’s money demands, increases in what they pay for health insurance and contribute to their pensions. These givebacks will cut roughly 10 percent off union members’ gross pay. But Walker has another demand: the unions must give up their right to collective bargaining and let members vote every year on whether to retain their union membership.
Walker almost certainly owes his state job to one David Koch, the oil man and ultra-right-wing union hater who just about bankrolled his campaign. Wisconsin is the test case for the rest of the Republican-owned state governments. If Walker wins this fight, unions will start toppling across the nation. First it will be state and municipal government unions, but industrial and service unions won’t be far behind.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t love the labor movement, if you think some of their tactics are selfish or high-handed. Unions are all we have to keep corporate capitalists from totally crushing working people, no matter what color collar they wear, or if they wear none at all. It doesn’t matter if they shower in the morning or when they get home from work, union members are our last defense against the right wing’s ultimate goal — corporate fascism, the merger of big business and government in the interests of commerce.
Egyptians stood up to their oppressors, peacefully and with the fierce determination born of being morally right. Public service union workers are doing that in Wisconsin now, while you’re reading this. People are gathering every day this week, all over the US of A, to support the Wisconsin defenders of labor rights. You could join them, if you wanted to. You could let them see what they mean to you and your family’s security.
Find a place to go by looking here. Then walk like an Egyptian, peacefully and with the fierce determination born of being morally right.