Wednesday, December 19, 2012

"Public-service workers and their unions are standing up for the values on which the American middle class was built" by Henry Bayer

Wherever we live and whatever political party we identify with, most Americans agree on a few basic things. We believe that those who work hard should have decent pay, affordable health care, security in retirement and respect on the job — and that government should provide essential services, like good schools for our children, safe streets for our families and a safety net for the most vulnerable, including the elderly, disabled, at-risk kids and unemployed workers.

Despite this common-sense consensus in support of vital public services and the men and women who provide them, choruses of corporate special interests are echoing extreme attacks on workers and their rights. And far too many politicians are listening.

We've seen it in states like Ohio, Wisconsin and New Jersey, where Republican governors backed by corporate CEOs have conspired to slash jobs and wages, cut or privatize public services, and curtail workers' rights.

Now some are trying to use our state's budget crisis as an excuse to bring the same extreme agenda to Illinois. They want to stoke public resentment against government in general, public services in particular and the unions that represent the hard-working people who provide those services most of all.

Why? Because public-service workers and their unions are standing up for the values on which the American middle class was built: that hard work should be rewarded with respect, dignity, a decent wage and a fair shot to get ahead, and that our economy works best when prosperity is broadly shared.

The labor movement's vision of America is in direct conflict with the top-down agenda of the big corporations, their CEOs and other millionaires and billionaires. It's not only that they want to force public servants to accept the same low wages, few benefits and no voice on the job they have imposed on far too many workers in the private sector; the corporate elite want to take even more wealth for themselves by expanding their special favors in the tax code, reducing the regulatory oversight that holds them accountable and enabling the privatization schemes that have turned our public infrastructure and schools into profit centers.

To prevail, the elites must discredit, weaken or wipe out the labor movement. At this point in history, that means the unions that represent the teachers, librarians, firefighters, caregivers and other public employees whose wages, benefits and workplace rights the CEO crowd ceaselessly attacks.

Thus the rhetoric from politicians and financiers: …campaigns on cutting teachers, police officers and firefighters, and cheerleading for anti-worker governors like Wisconsin's Scott Walker and vowing to bust unions from coast to coast.

Here in Illinois, public employees and our unions are standing up for a better future for all — and citizens are joining us. When Chicago teachers were forced out on strike for respect and a fair contract, two-thirds of Chicago Public Schools parents sided with the union. When Gov. Pat Quinn set out to slash jobs and vital services while demonizing public workers, their pay and their pensions, he soon found himself among the least popular governors in the nation. And a recent Tribune poll showed that, despite two years of ceaseless misinformation by Big Business chieftains and pols of both parties, Illinois voters rightly hold politicians, not workers, responsible for the state's pension debt by an eye-popping ratio of 51 to 2.

In short, most people understand that public workers and union rights aren't what ail Illinois. They recognize that librarians, child-protection workers, nurses and other public employees are helpers, problem solvers, those we turn to in times of need. They know that politicians don't keep us safe, and CEOs don't teach our kids.

Americans understand that the right to bargain collectively is built on the fundamental freedoms that made our country great. They recognize that unions exist to enforce some basic rules of the road, like an honest day's work for an honest day's pay. Like the confidence that an unexpected illness won't bankrupt you; that a capricious boss won't fire you, and that a run-amok corporate class won't drive our economy off a cliff.

While the corporate crowd tries to undermine the middle class that's essential to rebuilding strong communities, the rest of us can work together to address the real causes of our state budget problems. We can reform the broken, unfair tax structure that squeezes working families while rewarding millionaires. We can end egregious tax giveaways to profitable corporations that hold taxpayers hostage and answer to no one. And we can make progress for the priorities we share: creating jobs, reversing cuts to education and health care, keeping promises to retirees and growing prosperity for all.

Henry Bayer is executive director of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31.

from the Chicago Tribune November 1, 2012 

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