The first casualty of class warfare…

March 10th, 2011

Really, it is too much.  This morning on Vermont Public Radio I listened to Jim Douglas’ apologia for the shame of Wisconsin.  VPR likes to hire “former” politicians as commentators, as if the politician’s perspective were under-represented in our civic discourse, overwhelmed by the thundering voices of the poor, the marginal and the disenfranchised.  The commentary was presented in Douglas’ usual soothing tones; if you could bottle this man’s voice, you could use it as cough syrup.  He availed himself of the familiar conservative Republican tactic of depicting the facts not as they are but as they might be on a planet where they support the conclusions that he would prefer to draw.  Thus, he described himself as a believer in collective bargaining and implied that, as a former union member, he is a friend to organized labor.  He described Governor Scott Walker and the Wisconsin Senate as motivated by concern for the state budget.

Governor Douglas must have turned in his union card a long, long time ago.  You can ask any member of the Vermont State Employees Union how big a friend to labor Jim Douglas was during his years in the State House.  Jim Douglas’ “friendship” for labor is the major reason the VSEU endorsed a Democrat to succeed Douglas as governor, instead of Douglas’ hand-picked GOP candidate for successor, Brian Dubie.  Or you could ask former New York Governor David Paterson about Jim Douglas’ affection for organized labor.  Governor Douglas vetoed Governor Paterson’s proposal that reconstruction of the Crown Point Bridge should be done by an all-union workforce.  To be fair, one cannot accuse our former Governor of an outright union busting agenda.  Most likely, he was sincerely concerned about budgets and costs.

Not so his colleagues and fellow Republicans in Wisconsin.  As to whether Governor Walker and the Wisconsin GOP are primarily motivated by concern for the budget, as they claim, there can be no doubt any longer.  Their primary motivation is not the budget, but union busting.  Their union busting proposal was contained in a bill which had many provisions relating to the budget.  The package was presented as a budget bill, and the rationale was that controlling the state’s budget deficit required rolling back public employees’ collective bargaining rights.   As later events have proved, this was a sales pitch; plugging budget holes polls better than stripping working people of their bargaining rights.  But actions speak louder than words.

Wisconsin rules require a quorum of the Senate to vote on a budget related matter.  That is why the Wisconsin Senate Democrats, true friends of labor, could block the bill by staying away from Madison and depriving the Senate of a quorum.  After letting this play out for a few weeks, the Republicans showed their true colors.  They passed their union-busting proposal without a quorum by stripping away all the budget-related provisions from the bill so that a quorum was not needed.  It was naked union busting that they passed.  It had nothing to do with the budget.  Note that they did not first take up budget-related measures separately and then move to vote on the union busting measure.  Between balancing the budget and breaking organized labor, the latter was the priority.

A listener must grant commentators a fair amount of latitude.  We don’t want to hear only from people we agree with, or people who think the way we do, or people who interpret the facts in a manner that meets our approval.  We want a diversity of voices and viewpoints.  But we also have a right to expect that the commentariat should proceed from some basic respect for and not contrary to the established record and the verifiable facts.  If Jim Douglas wants to say he supports Governor Walker’s union busting, fine, let him say that.  But if he is going to pretend that he is a friend of labor and that Governor Walker is not a mere union buster, then that is not a respectable statement of opinion, it is Republican propaganda, and VPR should not have broadcast it.

This entry was posted on Thursday, March 10th, 2011 at 11:35 pm and is filed under Current events, media, Politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

4 Responses to “The first casualty of class warfare…”

  1. Gregory Dennis Says:

    Ah, our old friend Jim. If thinks Walker cares more about the Wisconsin budget than he does about busting unions, he really has been drinking too much of the swill he’s been selling Vermonters for decades. Jim means well but he remains so very deluded.

  2. Seth Steinzor Says:

    Too true – the sad thing is, he’s really a nice guy. I’ve always liked Jim on a personal level.

  3. Don Rosenow Says:

    Not that I expect much else from a writer’s website – as a group you are almost universally liberal – but I make a distinction between a public employees union and, say, the UAW, a distinction becoming increasingly blurred particularly in the case of the UAW.

    I really don’t care if Walker – or every other governor in the 50 states including my own Indiana – busts public unions from the various state and national teachers unions to the national unions such as AFSCME and SEIU. I would even support a constitutional amendment banning public employee collective bargaining altogether.

    “All government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public-personnel management. The very nature and purposes of government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people.” – F.D. Roosevelt

  4. Seth Steinzor Says:

    I will gladly distinguish between a fraudulent assault on public employee collective bargaining such as Walker’s, masquerading as a budget control measure when it is in fact a pure power play, on the one hand, and a principled objection such as yours to collective bargaining in the limited context of public employment. I do think you’re wrong. FDR speaking as a manager was of course opposed to unionization of public employees. A wrong-headed pronouncement from the sainted FDR doesn’t vitiate the validity of the principle. Even if we grant that “the employer is the whole people,” so what? That doesn’t vest the employer with any special virtue. There is still a power imbalance between employer and employee which can only be redressed by collective action on the part of the workforce. Without public employee organization, public employees have no bargaining power vis a vis “the whole people” and will inevitably be underpaid and otherwise exploited. The inevitable result, seen around the world, is the acceptance of petty corruption on the part of minor officialdom as a fact of daily life, in order to supplement inadequate salaries. I think that unionization and decent wages and benefits for public employees are a small price to pay to avoid that particular evil. But of course I’m a public employee, so I’m biased.

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