Monday, February 28, 2011

Eric Foner...

...On what's going on in Wisconsin.


  1. I think of myself as a Labor Republican. I have a hard time going Liberal Democrat on so many issues. But unions are a natural against the profiteering ways of business, big or small, and in this application, government ig or small.

    In Lowell here, back in the day of the mills, the corporation brought in the Irish to work in the ditches, carving and then laying the stone into the canals. The supervisors used to slow down the time clocks to squeeze more work out of the laborers.

    But, they brought in so many Irish, that they elected themselves into public office, and built a new city hall: Lowell City Hall. The tower has a big clock on all four sides, so that no matter which ditch you're in, you can see precisely what time it really is. These are the types of counter forces that have to be in place at all times.

    Nowadays, you may have two equally smart engineering students, one who decides to take the investment route, the other takes the invention route. The Inventor works for the Investor and makes six figures. The Investor makes billions. Not fair, not right, and the situation should more be the reverse.

    My mother was a teacher, and she used to say that she appreciated being in the union so that she could focus on teaching, without worrying about whether her wage or benefits were right or if she was being cheated in the politics of the situation. Her time needed to be spent on preparing classes and the time the student would have and their futures.

    Unions are essential.

    When corporation circumvent unions by going worldwide, thus paying cheap or contracting sometimes for slave labor or child labor, they temporarily get work done cheaper. But, a union movement immediate begoms stirring, that may takes years to come to fruition. The world labor situation will be looking very different ten years from now. Safeguards will be in place.

    You cannot keep the workers down. It's not a matter of economic philosophy or what one thinks the money ought to go. It's the way of people not to be kept down or to be taken advantage of.

    Excuse the typos. I am at work speeding out this comment.


  2. Scott Walker has more or less admitted, in that phone call, that this is blatant union-busting, and not really about the budget or the pensions. It's ideologically-driven and not really necessary, as the example of what Michigan is doing shows.

    I really like how the protesters here in Wisconsin are showing such solidarity. Sometimes it takes an issue like this to unite people in common cause.

  3. I think it is essential to distinguish between private sector unions -- which do negotiate with managements that can be adversarial (I've been on strike)-- and public sector unions, whose employer, as FDR put it, "is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress." That means, among other things, that in a representative government, elections have consequences, some of which may affect public sector employees. It is also worth noting that the 14 Democrats self-exiled to Illinois are refusing to participate in that representative process. I am, by the way, a union member, and my wife is a retired public school teacher (and my mother was a member of the ILGWU). So I am hardly biased against unions. But I think the case with public sector unions is different and that the current situation regarding their salaries and benefits is mathematically unsustainable.
    Bear in mind, too, that in the 1950s, 36 percent of private-sector workers were union members. As of last year, that number was down to just under 7 percent.
    Also, according to this piece, Wisconsin voters seem to be siding with the governor.

  4. I don't know a single Wisconsin vote who's siding with the governor on this one. I know several hundred thousand folks who have protested, most of whom are not actually public-sector union members, just ordinary folks.

    What is really offensive about this situation is that Scott Walker refuses to negotiate, refuses to listen to the opposition, refuses to even hear the voices of his constituents who don't agree with his party line. He is an ideologically-driven demagogue, who is trying to bust the unions, not balance the budget. I'm sorry, but Eric Foner's piece is dead on target.

    Contrast that with the new Republican governor of Michigan, who is dealing with the same situations and is not handling it the same way. He does want to negotiate, he is willing to listen, and he is willing to compromise.

    That is how people govern. Walker is an ideologue who doesn't want to govern, he wants to impose his ideas on the state. He is proving that he doesn't even know how to govern.

    This is how he ruined Milwaukee County, and this is how he's trying to ruin my state.

  5. And a poll of 400 people who were at home to answer the phone is skewed, when the 100,000 who were at the Capitol protesting weren't at home to answer their phones. Think about it.

    Polls mean nothing, not when people are out doing protests, not only at the Capitol. I was in upstate Wisconsin this weekend, and I drove through two small towns where protests were happening at the city halls for those small towns. So it's not just Madison people protesting. it's all over the state.

    The point is, this is grass roots.

  6. The poll sample is small, admittedly,but Rasmussen has noted that nationwide support for Walker is 48 percent approval with 38 percent disapproval. Not all those demonstrating were against Walker. Quite a few were demonstrating in support. Looks like the roots are in disagreement -- unless were going to say the demonstrations organized by the unions are grass roots, but the others are not.

  7. Also, I haven't been in Wisconsin lately, but I sure know people there who support Walker. As for negotiating, is taking off for Illinois negotiating? What is the problem with abiding by the law? The other side is going to lose the vote -- because in the last election they lost the majority. God forbid that majority rule.

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  9. That teachers should be able to negotiate and have collective bargaining power ought to have nothing to do with the weather and winds blowing though the majority of windows in Wisconsin.

    My mother is a retired teacher and my oldest son is a 3rd-grade teacher. They should not have to live at the whim of a political campaign. There is a very important line that has to be drawn, one that does not allow for someone or some movement with a political philosophy to negatively impact their incomes and take away their power to do anything about it.

    If anyone, a single despot or a majority of voters, puts workers down as is happening in Wisconsin, they will rise up sooner or later even if they have to grumble for decades leading up to the time when they are able to set things right. It is in the constitution of people, whether it is written into the Constitution or not.

  10. Actually, Rus, in two years voters in Wisconsin will have the opportunity to vote for or against the Republicans in their legislature. If they vote against them, then the new legislature can immediately restore whatever the unions feel they lost. Also, the bill doesn't eliminate collective bargaining; it restricts it to base pay. Finally, Wisconsin voters can also decline to re-elect Gov. Walker in four years. The reason why this is a legislative matter is because it was established as such by previous legislatures. If we are going to talk about a tyranny of a majority of voters, then why bother having elections, and exactly what or who is going to be the determining factor when it comes to policy?
    For the time being, though, as President Obama said just after his own election, "Elections have consequences."

  11. HI Frank,

    We decide things that are basic by making them constitutional, whereby it takes more than a majority to overturn such edicts. For instance, not being able to discriminate based on sex, race, and so forth, no matter what platitudes or memes are being bandied about at campaign time. I quote you:

    I was reminded of this recently when a couple of people I was talking with made some casual remarks of a political nature. It was obvious that they were simply parroting something they had read in the New York Times, or seen on PBS News, or heard on NPR. Liberal platitudes, in other words.

    The problem, of course, was not that the views expressed were liberal (one encounters the same thing with conservatives), but that they were platitudes. These were people who shopped around for ideas the same way they bought clothes: by patronizing reputable purveyors of information and opinion.

    Here we have a situation where the simple "solution" of taking away anyone's claim to government purses other than the legislative body and the governor, is at risk of blowing down what it took the unions years to build. Obama's did this sort of thing with the auto unions. With utter disregard and with arrogance, the union workers are treated unjustly. Oyur answer must be no, they may not have such arrogant and destructive power.

  12. Again, the difference lies in public sector vs. private sector unions. I paid my union dues today. The government didn't collect them. The public school teachers of Wisconsin are employed by the citizens of Wisconsin, whose representatives are the state's elected officials. The unions were happy when they officials did as the unions wanted. Now they are not happy. That's the game, guys and gals.