Friday, March 11, 2011

Wisconsin Might Be an Omen for the Public Employees of Illinois

The confrontation between freedom and power has an indeterminable history.  One hundred and fifty-two years ago, John Stuart Mill, in his famous essay, On Liberty, examined the “struggle between Liberty and Authority… between subjects, or some classes of subjects, and the Government” (Mill 1).  A question he might have asked today is, what should be the limits of power that legislators have over their constituents, such as public employees, when some of these lawmakers’ decisions border on political despotism?

How can public employees guard against such arrogance, self-interest, prejudice, and prevarications?   In a democracy, there must be dialogue, for “[the] silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility” (17).  This revival of absolutism today forecloses the right to be heard and exiles truth from being openly canvassed.  Moreover, it extinguishes critical thinking and the understanding of the relationship among ideas and matters of fact.  In regard to creating and passing any legislation, the closest we can arrive at an acceptable course of action, such as in the establishment of a just law, is by posing counterarguments to any arguments that might be presented before it can become a law.

No doubt, teachers and other public employees have been blamed for the mismanagement of the States’ budgets all across the country.  “Shared Sacrifice” has become the new slogan of ignorance that is repeated with the regularity of a fast-food commercial.  A few corporate groups and legislators have adopted this tautological jingo to terminate further discussion of any complicated bill requiring a thorough examination and analysis of its ramifications.

To blame public employees is an attempt to further suppress any knowledge of the cause-and-effect relationship between a State’s budget deficit and the State pension systems and unions.  To hold teachers and other State employees responsible for the financial mess is reprehensible and alarming, especially since full payments to the public pension systems were never made by legislators. It does not take long to realize how dubious and perilous some ploys are and how indefensible and unethical they might be.   

To change public employees' constitutionally-guaranteed pension with the passage of a law that mitigates certain benefits and to deprive public employees' rights to bargain is an encroachment of their right to human dignity and justice.  It is a calculated infringement of contractual principles. Those legislators who knowingly create and pass such a law supported by fabricated causality violate their oath of office.

Unlike Wisconsin, however, in Illinois, “Membership in any pension or retirement system of the State, any unit of local government or school district, or any agency or instrumentality thereof, shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired” (Article XIII, Section 5 of the Illinois State Constitution).   Nevertheless, the current House Speaker, some legislators, and lawyers of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago will continue to challenge the denotations and connotations of this Article’s diction, even though existing case laws exist that state explicitly “Any attempt to unilaterally diminish the State employee’s pension after [an employee] is hired and enters the system would violate the Pension Protection Clause” (Memorandum to Hon. Pat Quinn, Governor of the State of Illinois, from Gino L. DiVito and John Fitzgerald, 12 April 2010). 

In a world of freedom, justice, and peace, “Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his [or her] interests” (Article 23, No, 4 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted and proclaimed by General Assembly of the United Nations, Resolution 217 A (III) of 10 December 1948).  In Wisconsin, one governor does not believe “human rights should be protected by the rule of law” (Preamble to The Universal Declaration of Human Rights), and that conviction is unethical, injudicious, and discriminatory.  

-Glen Brown

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