Thursday, March 31, 2011

A few words about collective bargaining rights

In my opening post, I spoke a few words about my opposition to Governor Walker's actions against public employees and school teachers, as well as his cuts to education. My only real reason offered at the time (I was sort of rushing through items, trying to get to all of them) was that my mother is, in fact, a public school teacher. I think it's time I went a little further in explaining why my opposition isn't based simply on personal interest.

First, and most obviously, these cutbacks are being put into action by a governor who has made much of calling for "sacrifice" in difficult times. That sounds nice, doesn't it? Except what is the reality? Who is being asked to sacrifice? Surely not everyone. Instead, the governor and Republicans in the legislature - not satisfied to say to their wealthy donors and corporate allies that now isn't the best time for tax cuts and increased exemptions - chose to exclude those groups from the sacrificing. While facing a huge deficit, complaining about it daily, and making much of how easy of a life teachers supposedly have. This is like spending all your money to party and then complaining that you don't have enough to pay your mortgage.

Second, just where do people think economic growth comes from? I know this question seems rhetorical, but it really isn't, because there seems to be an entire political party in this country that has decided that cutting taxes is their new dogma, and that if they just cut taxes enough, the economy will grow and everything will get better. Never mind that St. Reagan himself actually raised taxes not once, but twice. Nationally, we've been waiting eight damn years, and still it hasn't worked. However, on a state and national level, it's pretty apparent that education is the handmaiden of economic growth. If you want growth, cutting into education isn't the way to go about it.

"But [Redacted]," my conservative friends say, "this measure of cutting back pay, school funding, and collective bargaining rights is necessary because of the deep recession we're in right now." That argument sounds sensible until you actually think about it. Requiring pay increases above CPI to be approved by referendum (How dare those teachers want to make more money in their career like everyone else!) absolutely guarantees that no such increases will ever happen. Who is going to vote yes on a referendum that says, "Do you want the state to spend more money paying teachers?" A large number of people would probably vote yes on a referendum asking if the state should instead fire all teachers and hope our students learn by osmosis (hence why populism is almost always a terrible idea). But even setting aside pay, consider the issue of collective bargaining.

The idea is that those rights need to be given up because of the extraordinary economic conditions, right? Leaving aside the possibility of this being a purely political, rather than pragmatic, operation (there's strong evidence suggesting it is*, but bear with me), suppose the economy really does grow, and in a couple years public employees and teachers ask Madison, "Please can we have our collective bargaining rights back?" The same people who disingenuously say that these actions are necessary now aren't very likely to change their mind when things get better, are they? Why not? Just look at how they handle tax policy. "Oh, look," they said in the early 2000s, "the economy is growing, and we have a surplus. We should give it back with massive tax cuts." Then, when things turned downward, the catch phrase was, "You can't raise taxes in the middle of a recession!" And now, when we're starting to claw our way out, it's time for (wait for it) more bloody tax cuts! So what on earth is going to make people of this same persuasion suddenly decide to give back collective bargaining and fair pay for government employees and teachers?

Then there's a much more basic point, and that is hypocrisy. Endlessly, you hear people on the right in Wisconsin bemoan our educational system, how flawed it is, etc., etc. But do any of these folks want to put more money into the system? Absolutely not. Instead, they'd rather blame teachers for not doing their jobs well enough when class sizes are already far too big, and then take away the funding that prevents that situation from getting worse. How on earth is a teacher supposed to help or care about an individual student when they have fifty students in each class? We may soon find out. You get what you pay for. You can either pay less and shut the hell up about school quality, or put funding where it needs to be. Education --> economic growth. Any questions?

Finally, I want to relate a personal anecdote. My mother has been going to get her hair done by the same woman for I don't even know how long now. Recently, her hairdresser started a conversation about exactly this topic. Perhaps not surprisingly, the hairdresser was very pro-Walker, and very angry with the Senate Democrats for leaving the state. Leaving aside the fact that this woman admitted to not knowing anything really about the bill until the Democrats protested, she stated that teachers needed to pay up because the state needs to "cut back." My mother, never shy about speaking her mind, pointed out that since she'd be taking an 8% pay cut, perhaps she needed to "cut back" as well, and find a less expensive alternative to this woman as far as her hair was concerned. In other words, business owners might want to be a little less callous about advocating for the massive screwing over of the very people who buy their goods and services and thus keep their businesses open. That statement, at least, isn't so much boycott advocacy, but simple common sense that if you drive the middle-class down and down and down, eventually there won't be a market for anything. And what happens to your economy then?

I'd prefer if Governor Overreach just said he was taxing his political opponents. At least that would be honest. And I'd love it if it turns out that the first person to feel the backlash from these policies is Justice Prosser. Not just because of irony, but also as a little bit of retribution for the disgraceful campaign certain interest groups (looking at you, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce) ran against Justice Louis Butler a couple years back. What goes around, comes around, and here it comes to bounce one of yours off the bench. Just saying.

*I think the fact that unions are virtually the only group that supports the Democratic Party and (important conjunction!) have the resources to take advantage of the Supreme Court's questionable-at-best-and-ludicrous-at-worst decision in Citizen's United provides pretty strong motivation for Republicans to want to suddenly engage in massive union-busting nationwide, don't you?

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