As if we needed any further proof that trickle-down economics is a joke, along comes massively-profitable Caterpillar's decision to freeze the wages of its Joliet, IL factory workers from now until the cows come home, and then some. Meanwhile, the compensation for Cat CEO Douglas Oberhelman shot up 60% in 2011, to $16.9 million. It's not like the workers were being lavishly paid, either; the top tier had average salaries of $55,000 before overtime.
Unfortunately, I can't boycott Cat, as I won't exactly be in the market for a knuckleboom loader anytime soon.
As the daughter of teachers, I find myself more incensed by what's happening in Wisconsin than I've been about anything in a while -- and there's been plenty to get upset about. Last week's coldhearted maneuver by the Wisconsin GOP was bad enough, and then that vapid, braying dipstick Sarah Palin -- the opposite of education personified -- went on TV (wearing a jacket from the set of "Star Trek," I might add) and called the teachers' union leaders "thugs" after the Wisconsin Republicans received a death threat:
"Well, these union bosses that are acting like thugs, as they are leading some of their good union members down a road that will ultimately result in, unfortunately, somebody getting hurt," Palin said... " it is these unions bosses' responsibility to turn down the rhetoric and start getting truth out there, so that nobody gets hurt."
Good one, Ms. Blood Libel! Of course, Palin is hardly the first to try to smear the WI protesters as "thuggish" despite amazingly peaceful demonstrations, so it seemed appropriate to draw a cartoon reminding everyone that these are the people who taught you to write the alphabet. They are not thugs, unless boring you to death with quadratic equations counts as thuggery.
Adding further insult to injury, Gov. Scott Walker actually had the gall to spin union-busting as "progressive" and "innovative." Um, no.
As unions grow less and less powerful in the US, it seems we're losing our collective memory of why they are important, and also of what a decent job looks like. As one young person put it recently in the NYT:
More typical was Brett Stephens, 23, who had worked in more jobs since he was 15 than Ms. Rollins has in her lifetime. He had jobs at a snack shop, as a lifeguard, at Little Caesars restaurants in South Carolina and Florida, at a Limited clothing store, with a temp agency, and most recently as a cook in a diner.
He did not go to college, he said, because his grandmother, who raised him after his mother died when he was 9, could not afford to send him. Now he scrapes by on $10 an hour, unable to afford health care for his two children. It is covered by welfare.
“I think they should stop crying,” he said of the protesting union members. Everyone was working hard and tightening their belts, he said, so why should unions be different?
I empathize with anyone trying to support a family on crap jobs like that -- but this also illustrates how the working class plays right into the hands of the very elites who want to do away with unions. First, eliminate the good jobs that allow workers their fair share of the nation's wealth; next watch them turn against each other. On the Slowpoke Facebook page (only 5 more likes till 900!), one reader alludes to a crab bucket, an analogy often used by writer Terry Pratchett:
Anyone as experienced in handling seafood as Ms Pushpram knows that no lid is necessary on a bucket of crabs. If one tries to climb out, the others will pull it back. Crabs fall considerably lower on the evolutionary scale than primates and, certainly, people, so this this seems to be a basic force of life. Petty jealousy or a reluctance to see anyone do better has probably slowed the development of civilisation more than anything.
Fortunately, polls show a majority of Americans support workers keeping their bargaining rights -- so our case of crabs is not an epidemic, as some billionaires might have you believe.
If there's one thing to understand about the Wisconsin battle, it's that it's not really about the budget, but a premeditated and politically-motivated attack on the teachers' union. The teachers have already ceded to pay cuts -- but now Walker is going to start firing them one by one if they don't give up their bargaining rights forever. Never mind the fact that the Wisconsin budget was left with only a modest shortfall by Walker's Democratic predecessor. To top it all off, Walker has added an additional $140 million projected shortfall to the next budget with his wealthy donor-friendly tax cuts.
After a commenter pointed out to me that Walker's budget-busting measures were, according to Politifact, not part of the current shortfall, it occurred to me that the first panel of the cartoon is misleading. While I’d probably write it differently now, I still think the larger point — that he purports to care about the deficit while adding to it — is legit. And even if the current modest shortfall is not due to Walker, it’s clear that the Republicans are using the economic downturn to accomplish their long-sought political goals (union busting) even as they add to deficits themselves. [UPDATE UPDATE: some people are now saying Politifact is wrong (it's a few paragraphs into the post). I give up. Can we just call Walker a douchenozzle and call it a day?]
If you had any lingering doubts that Wisconsin is part of a broader movement to attack workers' rights, it's important that Americans understand that Walker is in tight with the billionaire right-wing activists, the Koch Brothers, whose foundation Americans For Prosperity is picking ideological fights in several states:
The effort to impose limits on public labor unions has been a particular focus in Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, all states with Republican governors, Mr. Phillips said, adding that he expects new proposals to emerge soon in some of those states to limit union power.
Even if Wisconsin teachers manage to preserve their bargaining rights, my feeling is that the bigger picture does not look good. The forces aligned against what few unions remain are just too powerful. In this Gilded Age we live in, moneyed elites have managed to convince millions of ordinary, struggling Americans to reject one of the last means of recourse workers have left. It doesn't really matter if Scott Walker goes down -- they have the ideological vision, and the willingness to take the heat for it. Something weak-kneed Democrats might want learn from.